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Newsline - August 14, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin on 13 August accepted Alfred Kokh's resignation as deputy prime minister and head of the State Property Committee and appointed Maksim Boiko to both posts. Having joined the State Property Committee when it was run by current First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, Kokh had chaired the committee since September 1996. In a statement released to Russian media, Kokh said he had submitted his resignation before leaving for vacation on 11 August and will now work in the private sector. Kokh added that he leaves the government "with a clear conscience." Recent sales of state-owned stakes in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest and the Tyumen Oil Company have shown that privatization has brought millions of dollars to the state coffers, he said. Boiko, who, like Kokh, is considered a close ally of Chubais, had served as deputy head of the presidential administration since August 1996.


Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who reportedly informed Yeltsin of Kokh's resignation, described the outgoing State Property Committee chairman as a "good economist" with a "good future," Interfax reported on 13 August. The prime minister said all of the achievements of privatization this year could be attributed to Kokh's work. At a cabinet meeting in July, Chernomyrdin criticized the implementation of privatization policy, saying every recent auction organized by Kokh's committee had ended in a scandal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 1997). Meanwhile, State Property Committee Deputy Chairman Fazil Gazizullin told Interfax that the committee's staff had long known of Kokh's plans to resign and that privatization policy will not change following Kokh's departure. State Duma Privatization Committee Chairman Pavel Bunich of the Our Home Is Russia faction agreed, noting that Boiko is "from the same team" as Kokh, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 August.


"Kommersant-Daily" on 14 August argued that Kokh's departure is "the continuation of the bank war" that erupted this summer over several controversial privatization sales. The newspaper argued that Kokh was accused of showing favoritism toward Oneksimbank, the winner of the recent auctions for state-owned stakes in Svyazinvest and in Norilsk Nickel. Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Sergei Dorenko had suggested on nationwide television that Kokh was too close to Oneksimbank. New State Property Committee Chairman Boiko will have to supervise further privatization deals without giving the appearance of being too close to any one financial group, "Kommersant-Daily" argued. "Nezavisimaya gazeta" wrote on 14 August that Chernomyrdin "has achieved the dismissal of Chubais's closest ally" but did not mention that Boiko is also seen as close to Chubais. That newspaper has slammed recent privatization sales supervised by Kokh.


The Central Bank has begun investigating whether Russian currency laws were broken during the recent sale of a state-owned stake in the telecommunications giant Svyazinvest, Interfax reported on 13 August, quoting the bank's deputy chairman, Aleksandr Khandruev. The same day, Igor Rogal, acting head of the Federal Service for Currency and Export Controls, again denied Russian media reports saying his service had already concluded that laws were broken during the Svyazinvest transactions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). Rogal acknowledged that a draft report may have been leaked from his service, but he said conclusions reached in such a document may be unfounded and therefore may be left out of the final evaluation of the Svyazinvest sale. Rogal said that together with the justice minister and the head of the State Anti-Monopoly Committee, he will soon sign a joint official evaluation of the legality of the Svyazinvest deal.


During a 13 August meeting, Yeltsin instructed Chernomyrdin to draft a presidential decree on managing state-owned shares in enterprises in the energy sector, Interfax reported, quoting Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Livshits. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov recently submitted a report to the president criticizing the Fuel and Energy Ministry and government representatives in partly state-owned energy companies, Livshits said. Livshits also called for revoking decisions that allowed companies to keep dividends earned from state-owned shares. Earlier this year, First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov charged that the state earns little revenue from its 40 percent stake in Gazprom and promised to strengthen state control over the gas monopoly (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 April 1997). However, Gazprom management retained the right to manage a 35 percent stake -- nearly all of the state-owned Gazprom shares.


While meeting with Yeltsin on 13 August, Federation Council speaker Yegor Stroev said Russia should adopt a new tax code by the end of the year, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. However, Stroev noted that the current draft should be amended to better reflect the interests of the regions and domestic industry. He also said regional leaders believe the draft code would not ease the tax burden and are unhappy that most taxes would still be collected by the federal, rather than regional authorities. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii told journalists that Yeltsin has accepted an invitation from Stroev to address the Federation Council on 23 September. The upper house will discuss the tax code on that day, according to the 14 August "Segodnya." However, the code must first be approved by the State Duma before it is put to a vote in the Council.


While the Duma approved the tax code in the first reading in June, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev recently predicted that deputies will reject the code in the second reading. Duma Budget Committee Chairman Mikhail Zadornov of the Yabloko faction has suggested that a new code may be passed by the end of the year. However, Zadornov told ITAR-TASS on 13 August that his committee has already received some 500 proposed amendments from Duma deputies or regional authorities. In addition, Sverdlovsk and Belgorod Oblasts have each submitted alternative tax codes for consideration by the Duma. "Segodnya" argued that opponents of the code are planning to "drown it in amendments" that will change its fundamental points. Government officials have repeatedly said the 1998 budget currently being drafted can be fulfilled only if a new tax code goes into effect on 1 January.


Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 11 August told army commanders and officers in Khabarovsk, "I don't expect applause from you. I expect understanding of the extreme necessity of the measures that have been planned and approved by the government." Sergeev's comments on the main points of military reform were quoted by the official military newspaper "Krasnaya zvezda" on 14 August. The previous day, Sergeev completed his visit to the Trans-Baikal Military District in Chita and flew to Novosibirsk, ITAR-TASS reported. The defense minister has been touring garrisons in an attempt to win officers' support for planned reforms that involve downsizing military personnel and merging some branches of the armed forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997). Several prominent politicians, including former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and State Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, have sharply criticized the military reform plans.


Vladimir Strakhov, director of the Institute of Earth Physics, has warned that government policies on restructuring the scientific sector are tantamount to the "castration of Russia's scientific potential." In an open letter to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Bulgak published in "Sovetskaya Rossiya" on 14 August, Strakhov charged that the government, the leadership of the Academy of Sciences, and trade unions for scientific workers have focused their efforts on preventing a "social explosion" among scientists rather than on promoting the "real interests and needs of science." Strakhov has staged two hunger strikes to protest funding shortages and low salaries for Russian scientists (see "OMRI Daily Digest," 14 October 1996 and 7 January 1997) Meanwhile, 58 hospital workers in Altai Krai, who are owed eight months in back wages, have vowed to continue a hunger strike that has already lasted 10 days, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 August.


Oleg Sysuev has warned that two weeks before the start of the academic year, Russian schools face a drastic shortage of textbooks, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 August. He said that only 29 million textbooks have been printed this year, despite a demand for more than 100 million books. Sysuev blamed regional governments, which, he said, are responsible for supplying schools with textbooks but which have only allocated enough funds to print 10 million books this year. He said various federal ministries and agencies have been instructed to take urgent steps to alleviate the textbook shortage. Sysuev also argued that the responsibility for funding textbook production had been transferred to regional governments too "hastily." He called for a revision of that policy.


Talks began in Moscow on 13 August between Russian Transport Ministry officials and Iranian representatives on a proposed joint venture to construct a major trade port in the village of Olya in Astrakhan Oblast, Interfax reported. Olya lies in the Volga delta, 95 kilometers from Astrakhan and 45 kilometers from the Caspian coast. On completion, the port will handle 10 million tons of freight annually. The first new facilities, which will be completed by 2000, will have an annual capacity of 2 million tons. The total cost of the project, including rail and road connections, is estimated at $360 million.


Russian fighter aircraft on 13 August simulated attacks on the central market and airport in Grozny, according to Western agencies and an RFE/RL correspondent in Grozny. Russian defense ministry officials denied, however, that Russian aircraft had entered Chechen airspace. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov toid ITAR-TASS that Chechnya's air defense troops were placed on alert and instructed to destroy any intruding aircraft. First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov termed the mock attack a deliberate attempt to prevent the planned meeting between Yeltsin and Chechen President Askan Maskhadov from taking place, but an unnamed source within the Russian Security Council told AFP on 14 August that the meeting will be held on 18 August. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told Interfax on 14 August that the decision by the Chechen parliament the previous day to designate Russian a foreign language is "counterproductive" and does not contribute to an "atmosphere of trust."


Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov signed a decree on 13 August relieving Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev of his duties as commander of the presidential guards rapid reaction force. Khudaberdiyev has made no official statement, but the Khatlon Defense Council, which was largely created by the mutinous colonel, has rejected the decree. Rakhmonov has appointed Sherali Mirzoyev as commander of the rapid reaction force.


The southern Tajik city of Kurgan-Teppe was quiet on 14 August, according to a resident interviewed by RFE/RL's Tajik Service. The resident said that the previous night, gunfire could be heard from the direction of Sarband and the Fakhrabad Pass, which contradicts government claims that the situation was calm there. The Kurgan-Teppe resident also said the process of disarming people had begun but was unable to say who was carrying out that process. The same person noted that "everybody has weapons" and that after darkness no one dares go outside. Similar reports have been filed from the northern sections of Dushanbe.


Following the defeat of armed groups loyal to Customs Committee Chairman Yakub Salimov, order has broken down in the "liberated" areas west of Dushanbe. RFE/RL correspondents in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan report that the armed forces that drove Salimov and his followers into hiding are now engaging in looting, rape, and murder. One man told RFE/RL that his brother and sister-in-law were taken from their home in the town of Tursunzade and shot dead outside in the street. Other reports say that travelers on the road from Tursunzade to Dushanbe are stopped at check points and that suspected "Uzbeks" or "Leninabadtsy" (people from the Tajikistan's north) are beaten and stripped of their property or are subjected to even worse treatment. The village of Cheptura, inhabited by ethnic Uzbeks and Leninabadtsy, is deserted after rumors of violence prompted people to flee, many to Uzbekistan.


Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba flew unexpectedly to Tbilisi on 14 August for one-to-one talks with his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze. Ardzinba was accompanied by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who had been scheduled to travel to Tbilisi on 14 August for talks with Shevardnadze to prepare for a proposed meeting between Shevardnadze, Ardzinba, and Russian President Yeltsin in Moscow. Primakov had met separately with Ardzinba on 9 August in Sochi. In a three-hour interview with Georgian Television on 12 August, Ardzinba rejected Yeltsin's latest proposals for resolving the conflict and argued that Abkhazia is not a constituent part of Georgia. Russian presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 August said the Russian leadership disapproves of attempts by the Chechen leadership to mediate a resolution of the Abkhaz conflict, NTV reported. Yastrzhembskii argued that foreign policy issues do not lie within the competence of federation subjects.


Boris Kakubava, spokesman for the ethnic Georgians forced to flee their homes in Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war, says the displaced persons will each demand $25,000 in compensation from the Georgian government if the demands made at their 7-9 August conference are not met, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Tbilisi, citing BS-Press. Those demands include the annulment of the treaty permitting Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia and that Georgia quit the CIS (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 1997).


Meeting with three U.S. senators in Baku on 12 August, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said that Moscow had repeatedly offered to "liberate" the districts of Azerbaijan currently under control of Karabakh Armenian forces in return for the right to station troops in Azerbaijan, Turan reported on 13 August. Azerbaijan consistently rejected this proposal. Aliyev proposed that the U.S. assume the role of guarantor of the independence of the former Soviet republics.


Belarusian KGB officials searched the Minsk apartments of the Russian Public Television (ORT) journalist Pavel Sheremet and his cameraman Dmitrii Zavadskii on 13 August, RFE/RL reported. They made a complete inventory of their property, Interfax reported, adding that an official statement issued after the inventory states no property was seized. The search took place on the same day as Sheremet, a Belarusian citizen who heads the ORT bureau in Minsk, began a protest fast in prison. Sheremet was arrested in July with his cameraman and driver and charged with trespassing on the Belarusian-Lithuanian border while working on a story about smuggling. Sheremet and his cameraman have since been in custody in Hrodno, while the driver has been released pending trial. No date for their trial has yet been set.


Foreign investment in Ukraine totaled $335.5 million during the first half of 1997, a 46.1 percent increase over the same period last year, Ukrainian Television reported on 13 August, citing the Statistics Committee. The largest investors were the United States ($315 million), Germany ($165.9 million), the Netherlands ($160.2 million), Great Britain ($130.9 million), Cyprus ($116.4 million), Russia ($114.2 million) and Liechtenstein ($103.1 million). Investments are mainly in the food industry, machine building, metal processing, finance and insurance, construction and construction materials production, and the chemical and petrochemical industries.


The Luhansk Oblast administration on 13 August negotiated with pickets and hunger-strikers from the Krasnodon mine, UNIAN reported. Of the 300 people who have been picketing the administration since 7 July, 170 are on a hunger strike. The miners are demanding the administration abide by the constitution by fulfilling labot contracts and paying wage arrears for the last nine months.


More than 20,000 people attended the funeral on 13 August of Borys Derevyanko, editor-in-chief of the newspaper "Vechernya Odesa," who was murdered two days earlier by an unknown assailant, UNIAN reported. Robert Menard, the secretary-general of the Paris-based Reporters sans frontiers, has sent a letter to President Leonid Kuchma expressing concern over Derevyanko's murder. He called on the authorities to find the murderer, investigate the motive, and ensure protection of "Vechernya Odesa" reporters. Meanwhile, UNIAN reported 13 August that Konstiantyn Serdiuk, the editor-in-chief of "Chernihivskiy Pivden," an independent newspaper, was beaten up on 8. August by three unknown persons. He was hospitalized and diagnosed as having suffered brain damage with internal bleeding.


Estonian Prime Minister Mart Siimann told journalists in Tallinn on 13 August that the Estonian-Russian border agreement is likely to be signed this year, ETA and BNS reported. He was speaking after a meeting with outgoing Russian Ambassador to Estonia Aleksandr Trofimov. Siimann said that although some technical and political problems remain, they can be overcome if both countries are interested in a "positive result." He welcomed an earlier Russian proposal to form a joint commission for dealing with economic and humanitarian issues.


The two drivers of the hydraulic basket lift at a firefighters show in Talsi in late June have been charged with murder by negligence, BNS reported on 13 August. Nine children died and more than 20 were injured when the basket fell from a height of 20 meters. If found guilty, the two men face up to two years in prison or a fine equivalent to 20 minimum monthly wages. (The minimum monthly wage is currently 38 lats or $65.) It is also planned to bring charges against the heads of the Riga and Talsi firefighting services.


Algirdas Brazauskas has received a letter from Ludmila Sheremet, the mother of one of the Russian Public Television (ORT) journalists being detained in Belarus, asking for Lithuania's help in securing the journalists' release, BNS reported. A presidential aide told the news agency that the detention of the journalists is an "affair between Russia and Belarus." But he added that Vilnius may try to urge Belarus to "solve the problem objectively" when the Lithuanian capital hosts an international conference in September, to which Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been invited. Lithuania may also "draw attention to the necessity to observe democracy, human rights, and other international norms," the aide said.


The Czech government on 13. August approved the disbursement of a further 3.5 billion crowns ($103 million dollars) from the state budget to help pay to repair damage caused by the recent flooding in eastern Bohemia and Moravia, "Hospodarske noviny" reports. The funds will be used for rebuilding local infrastructure, assisting flood damaged companies, and supporting housing construction. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus said local authorities will receive up to 500,000 crowns ($14,700) in subsidies for every new rental apartment built. He says the government is requesting permission to use some 2.3 billion crowns ($67.6 million) from the EU's PHARE program for repairing transportation and river-related infrastructure.


In a report delivered to Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on 14 August, the government Council on Nationalities accused the cabinet of failing to do anything fundamental to help bridge the growing gulf between Roma and the "white" population, "Mlada Fronta Dnes" reported. The report said 70 percent of Roma are unemployed and 20-30 percent earn income from criminal activities. Klaus on 13 August insisted the government has done everything possible to deal with Romani issues and that they have no reason to leave the country. So far this year, 419 Czech citizens have requested refugee status in Canada, according to Canadian officials. Romani leaders say up to 5,000 Roma plan to emigrate to Canada as a result of ongoing racism and following a recent TV show depicting Czech Romas happily settling in Canada.


The Slovak Democratic Coalition (SDK), an alliance of five opposition parties, and the Hungarian Coalition (MK), a coalition of three Hungarian minority parties, have reiterated their resolve to sign a written political agreement probably as early as September, RFE/RL's Slovak Service reported on 13 August. The agreement is expected to lay the groundwork for post-election cooperation between the SDK and the MK and for forming a post-election coalition government. Public opinion polls indicate that the two blocs could win half of the mandates in the new parliament. Until now, only the Democratic Party and some Christian Democrats have signaled their desire to see ethnic Hungarians in the government.


An office containing communist state security files will be open from 1 September to researchers and those who believe they were under observation during the communist era, office head Gyoergy Marko announced on 13 August. The office will be set up temporarily at the Interior Ministry building in Budapest. Marko estimated that in the summer of 1989, the security services had files on some 160,000 people under observation. He said it could take up to five years to process the approximately 15-20 million pages, Hungarian media reported.


Sali Berisha and other deputies from his Democratic Party ended their boycott of the new parliament on 13 August. Berisha told the legislature that the Democrats "have not come here to show that this is a legal parliament. We came only because this parliament is the only political solution." Socialist faction leader Pandeli Majko said that Berisha today is "only a shadow" of the leader he was when communism fell in 1990. Majko also slammed the former president for not mentioning in his speech all the people who died in the violence that marked his final months in office. Later, the parliament approved Arben Rakipi of the Socialist Party as attorney-general.


The Constitutional Court on 14 August ruled that only Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic is the legal presidential candidate of the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Podgorica. President Momir Bulatovic must run as the candidate of another party or as an independent if he wants to seek reelection in the October vote. The court ruling came after one DPS faction nominated Djukanovic and another selected Bulatovic. The Election Commission accepted both candidacies as legal, even though the law states that each party may nominate only one candidate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). The court ruling is a clear setback for Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic and his backers in Montenegro.


Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic told representatives of the Democratic Union of Albanians in Ulcinj on 13 August that he will restore to Tuzi the status of municipality that it enjoyed until 1961. Municipal status for the mainly Albanian town will mean more jobs for local politicians. The Serbian Party of Montenegro (SSCG) protested the decision as "a cheap political trick" to win the support of the Albanian minority, which makes up 8 percent of the republic's population, and to convey the image abroad that Montenegro deals generously with its Albanians while Serbia does not. The SSCG added that Djukanovic is treating Montenegro's Serbs, who form 10 percent of the population, like an ethnic minority and that the SSCG will appeal to the Supreme Defense Council of Yugoslavia to discuss Djukanovic's actions. Similar appeals to Belgrade from Serbs outside Serbia preceded the wars in Croatia and Bosnia.


U.S. Gen. Wesley Clark paid an unannounced visit on 13 August to Pale, the mountain headquarters of Radovan Karadzic and the other Bosnian Serb hard-liners. Clark said that Karadzic is an "indicted war criminal, he needs to turn himself in voluntarily." The general also criticized the use of 3,000 special police as bodyguards for Karadzic. Clark said the police should guard only government officials and their guests and that they should not have a military-type organization. NATO member countries have been putting political, diplomatic, military, economic, and psychological pressure on Karadzic in recent weeks to give himself up or at least to disappear completely from public life.


Together with the White House and the State Department, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on 13 August denied that she offered Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic a deal to send Karadzic into exile in a third country and stressed that the only place for Karadzic is in The Hague (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 August 1997). Albright said that she hopes that Plavsic remembers her obligations under the Dayton agreement better than she remembered the conversation in which Plavsic alleged that Albright had offered her the deal. Also in Washington, the Pentagon denied reports that NATO commandos are training to catch war criminals. News agencies added, however, that Defense Department officials privately confirmed the report.


Robert Farrand, the international supervisor in the contested northern Bosnian town of Brcko, said on 13 August that the Bosnian Serb authorities continue to refuse to issue identity documents to Muslims and Croats returning to their homes. He said that the refugees' documents from the Croatian-Muslim federation will remain valid until the Serbian authorities change their policy. Republika Srpska Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic responded that "technical difficulties" are the reason that the Serbs have not issued the refugees new papers. He accused Farrand of trying to encourage an influx of refugees into the town. The Serbs, Klickovic added, insist that any returns take place "at a normal pace." In Sarajevo, SFOR troops went on heightened alert after receiving what spokesmen called "a security threat."


Negotiations are in progress to send one of the most wanted indicted Bosnian war criminals, Dario Kordic, to face the Hague-based war crimes tribunal, the Zagreb weekly "Globus" reported on 14 August. Kresimir Zubak, the Croatian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, said: "I think it is possible they will manage to agree and that [Kordic] will go to The Hague on the condition that the trial begins reasonably quickly." Kordic may well go to The Hague as early as within the next 10 days, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Zagreb. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman has been under strong U.S. pressure to send indicted Bosnian Croats to the court. Gen. Tihomir Blaskic has been in The Hague since April 1996 as a result of negotiations with the tribunal. Both he and Kordic were indicted for crimes connected with the 1993 Croatian-Muslim conflict.


Representatives of the main trade unions met with Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea and members of his cabinet on 13 August and reached an agreement on wages for the period August-December 1997, Romanian media reported. This latest agreement stipulates an increase of 15 percent for August and September and a further 14 percent increase for October through December. The minimum salary will be 225,000 lei (some $30) in August and September and 250,000 lei for the remainder of the year. Also on 13 August, local media reported that most miners at the Deva copper mines have registered to receive government compensation for employees at companies undergoing liquidation, even though the Deva mines are not on the liquidation list.


Gen. Valerii Yevnevich, in a statement published on 13 August, says the Transdniester leadership's claims on Russian army assets are "a provocation" and "may wreck the process of a peaceful settlement of the Transdniester conflict," ITAR-TASS reported on 13 August. Representatives of organizations calling themselves "voluntary" and "civic" (such as the United Council of Work Collectives, the Women's Union, and the Union of Cossacks) recently appealed to Yevnevich not to contribute to the Moldovan-Russian maneuvers scheduled for October by providing equipment which, they claimed, belongs to the Transdniester and is "temporarily used by the Russian army." Yevnevich said in his statement that this was a "slanderous campaign" against the Russian troops.


Two high-ranking Moldovan officers said in a televised interview on 12 August that Moldova plans to sell MiG-29 fighters and purchase combat helicopters, BASA-press reported. Gen. Ion Nanii, an adviser to Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, and Col. Dumitru Braghis, who commands the Decebal aviation brigade, said the government has not yet decided to which country to sell the airplanes. Braghis denied reports that six MiGs have already been sold to Belarus, explaining that the planes had flown to Minsk for repairs and would return to Moldova. The two officers said the number of helicopters to be purchased depends on the amount obtained from the sale of the MiGs. They added that details of the deal are a "state secret."


Ion Ciubuc has said that Gheorghe Armasu, the director of the government office in charge of religious affairs, "misinformed" the Chisinau Court of Appeal when he said the government will recognize the Bessarabian Metropolitan Church on 13 August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 1997), RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 13 August. Ciubuc said the government's agenda for its 13 August meeting had never included the Church's recognition. The Bessarabian Church is subordinated to the Bucharest patriarchate and has been denied recognition for five years. Armasu told the court that the reason for the denial of recognition was that "Bessarabia" (the name of the Romanian province whose bulk makes up today's Moldova) does not exist at all.


Continuing the drive to crackdown on audio-visual piracy (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 July 1997), police on 13 August seized some 2,000 illegally produced video cassettes, BTA reported. The raid was carried out in 63 stores and companies that distribute video cassettes in the Bulgarian capital. The confiscated cassettes are valued at some $8,200. The Ministry of Interior released a statement saying that since the beginning of 1997, more than 200,000 illegally produced compact discs, 100,000 audio cassettes, and 30,000 video cassettes have been confiscated.


by Liz Fuller

A major diplomatic row was triggered by the 4 July signing of an agreement between the Russian oil companies Rosneft and LUKoil and Azerbaijani's state oil company SOCAR on jointly exploring and developing a Caspian offshore oil field known as Kyapaz. Involved in that row are the Russian Federation, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan. Their differences spotlight the ongoing dispute over the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the ownership rights to the millions of tons of hydrocarbons that lie beneath it.

The five states with a Caspian coastline (Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Iran) have been at loggerheads for the past three years over whether that body of water should be legally defined as a sea or a lake. The question arose in September 1994, when Azerbaijan signed a multi-billion dollar contract with a consortium of Western oil companies plus Russia's LUKoil to exploit the Chirag and Azeri fields and the deep-water section of the Gyuneshli field. The Russian Foreign Ministry immediately declared the contract invalid and called for its annulment on the grounds that it contravened a treaty concluded between the USSR and Iran in 1940 on the joint use of the Caspian's resources.

Russia and Iran continue to insist that the Caspian is a salt-water lake and that therefore, under international law, its various resources -- whether sturgeon or oil and natural gas -- may be exploited only on the basis of an agreement concluded by all littoral states. Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, for their part, argue that the Caspian is a sea and should therefore be divided into national sectors that each country has the right to exploit as it pleases. (Such a right is included in the 1995 Azerbaijani Constitution.)

Turkmenistan had initially subscribed to the Kazakh-Azerbaijani view but, as of late fall1996, espoused the Russian-Iranian argument. In November 1996, Russia modified its position by proposing that the Caspian be divided into zones. Each littoral state would have the exclusive use of resources within its territorial waters, which would be extended from 10 to 45 miles. Resources beyond that point would be jointly used by all five countries. Iran and Turkmenistan approved that proposal.

Early this year, however, Turkmenistan again switched tack. In an interview with the "Financial Times" in January, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov claimed that the Azeri and Chirag fields lie in the Turkmen sector of the Caspian. Azerbaijan's Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov refuted that claim, saying that in 1970 the USSR Foreign Ministry had divided up the Soviet sector of the Caspian between Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, and Azerbaijan. He also said that maps showing the respective sectors proved that Niyazov's claim to the Azeri and Chirag fields were unjustified. Russian Foreign Ministry officials likewise rejected Niyazov's argument -- but on the grounds that no claims to individual fields could be made until an agreement had been reached on the legal status of the Caspian.

The Turkmen leadership immediately protested the signing of the Russian-Azerbaijani agreement on Kyapaz. On 5 July, Turkmen Foreign Minister Boris Shikhmuradov issued a statement contesting Azerbaijan's ownership of the field, which is located some 180 kilometers east of Baku and only 100 kilometers from the coast of Turkmenistan, and demanding the annulment of the agreement. Two days later, Shikhmuradov proposed creating an Azerbaijani-Turkmen commission to formalize the dividing line between the two countries' respective national sectors. Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov downplayed the dispute, arguing that the agreement was "purely commercial" and that therefore the Russian government was under no obligation to take any action.

In late July, however, when Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev was being lionized in Washington, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov met with the Turkmen leadership in Ashgabat. On his return to Moscow, Serov informed Niyazov that the Kyapaz contract would be annulled. The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement confirming the annulment on 5 August. Two days later in the Kremlin, Russian President Boris Yeltsin told Niyazov that the signing of the agreement had been a "mistake" on the part of the Russian oil companies involved. He also said that neither he nor the Russian government had known of the planned deal beforehand. (Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, however, had been present at the negotiations that preceded the signing ceremony.)

By thwarting the proposed joint venture, Russia not only mollified its potential ally Niyazov but also succeeded in embarrassing Aliev, whom it suspects of conspiring with the U.S. to undercut Russia's influence in the Caspian. Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasi-Zade conceded in early August that his country does not claim "exclusive" ownership of Kyapaz, given that deposit lies on the border between the Azerbaijani and Turkmen sectors. He also proposed that its reserves (estimated at 50 million metric tons) be exploited by both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Ashgabat has not yet commented on that offer.