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Newsline - November 10, 1997


President Boris Yeltsin, who is in Beijing for his fifth summit with the Chinese leadership, met with his Chinese counterpart, Jiang Zemin, on 10 November. They later released a joint statement noting improving ties between the two countries and respect for each other's independence and internal policy decisions, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement confirmed regular meetings will be held between government officials, including foreign ministers. It also called for improving economic ties and noted that military-technical cooperation between the two countries should not be seen as a threat to any third party. The two leaders promised the "responsible development" of resources along the border area so as not to cause environmental damage in the neighboring country. BP


Also on 10 November, Yeltsin and Jiang signed a much-publicized border demarcation agreement. Both sides expressed satisfaction at concluding an accord that has complicated Russian-Chinese relations for more than 300 years. Clarification is still needed in some areas of the Amur, Argun, and Ussuri Rivers. Yeltsin hailed the agreement as possibly setting an example for other countries but quickly added that his remark did not refer to the dispute with Japan over the southern Kuril Islands. Jiang also accepted an invitation from Yeltsin to hold an informal "meeting without coats." In early November, Yeltsin held informal talks with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, in what was billed as a "meeting without neckties." BP


Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov and Chinese Deputy Prime Minister Li Lanqing have signed memoranda of understanding on cooperation between the Russian government's regional administrations and the Chinese local governments as well as on economic, scientific, and technical cooperation. One memorandum deals with development of Russia's Kovykta gas field and the construction of a pipeline planned to carry gas to China, South Korea, and Japan. The Kovykta project will take 30 years to complete and cost about $12 billion. BP


In a joint statement released on 10 November, the government and Central Bank said they will support an average exchange rate of 6.1 rubles to $1 during 1998 and an average rate of 6.2 rubles to the dollar from 1998-2000, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Since mid-1995, the exchange rate of the ruble to the dollar has floated within a "corridor" that has periodically been revised to allow the gradual depreciation of the ruble. From 1998-2000, the exchange rate will be allowed to fluctuate no more than 15 percent in either direction of the average rate, from 5.25-7.15 rubles to the dollar. According to the current official exchange rate, $1 is worth 5,898 rubles. Three zeroes will be removed from the ruble when the currency is redenominated on 1 January. LB


Also on 10 November, the Central Bank raised the annual refinancing rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, effective 11 November, ITAR-TASS reported. No explanation for the move was given. The Central Bank has lowered the refinancing rate four times this year, most recently on 6 October. Officials have previously said that stable low inflation made the interest rate reductions possible. The refinancing rate is the one at which the Central Bank lends to commercial banks. Current government projections call for an annual inflation rate of 12 percent this year and 5.7 percent in 1998. LB


Yeltsin on 8 November decreed that, as of 1 January 1998, the government is prohibited from canceling debts to enterprises against tax arrears, ITAR-TASS reported. The government will also be prohibited from canceling debts to budget-funded organizations against payments owed for goods or services provided by the government. Russian officials have repeatedly promised to end the widespread practice whereby tax arrears are canceled against government debts to enterprises. In the past, such offsets have often been recorded as taxes collected. Russia needs to improve tax collection in order to secure the release of a $700 loan issue from the IMF (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 1997). LB


A Dagestani police official was shot dead on 9 November in Khasavyurt, close to Dagestan's border with Chechnya, Russian agencies reported. A series of killings and kidnappings have recently exacerbated Dagestani-Chechen tensions. Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov told Interfax the same day that he welcomes the Dagestani authorities' decision to create armed militias to patrol the border region. He also said Chechnya may introduce similar security measures. Visiting the border region on 10 November, Dagestani Security Council Secretary Magomed Tolboev said 5,000 Dagestanis have already volunteered to serve in the local militias, RFE/RL's North Caucasus correspondent reported. Tolboev refrained from blaming Chechnya for the growing tensions, noting it is frequently difficult to establish whether Chechens or Dagestanis committed a crime. LF


President Yeltsin on 8 November issued a decree creating a new commission intended to "stabilize and develop" Chechnya, AFP reported, citing the Russian presidential press service. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ramazan Abdulatipov was named chairman of the commission, whose precise functions and responsibilities remain unclear. Meanwhile, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov met in Istanbul on 7-8 November with former Prime Minister and Welfare Party Chairman Necmettin Erbakan and with the son of late Nationalist Movement Party leader Alparslan Turkes, ITAR-TASS reported. LF


Yeltsin on 8 November appointed Vladimir Kuroedov as commander of the Navy. Kuroedov replaces Admiral Feliks Gromov, who was simultaneously retired from military service. The decree included neither a reason for the change nor appreciation of Gromov's career, leading to speculation that Gromov was sacked on corruption allegations or because of explosions at naval arms depots in the Far East. (In the most recent such explosion, 12 torpedoes exploded at a Pacific Fleet depot in Primorskii Krai on 7 November.) However, a Defense Ministry statement on 9 November denied such allegations, saying Gromov was replaced because he recently reached the mandatory retirement age of 60. Kuroedov, a former commander of the Pacific Fleet, had served as first deputy Navy commander and chief of the Navy's General Staff since July. LB


Representatives of radical communist groups criticized the strategy of Gennadii Zyuganov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) at 7 November rallies marking the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution. Workers' Russia leader Viktor Anpilov accused the KPRF of pursuing a policy of "appeasement" and "making advances toward the authorities," ITAR-TASS reported. Addressing tens of thousands of demonstrators in St. Petersburg, Russian Communist Workers' Party leader Viktor Tyulkin called Zyuganov a "traitor," RFE/RL's correspondent in the city reported. At the same rally, Anatolii Kryuchkov, who heads the Russian Party of Communists, called for a massive uprising, arguing that changing the regime will be impossible through elections and parliamentary means of struggle. Zyuganov has recently drawn criticism from within the KPRF (see "RFE/RL Newsline,"4 November 1997). LB


Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin told a 7 November rally in Moscow that Russia is waging a "third world war" and "losing it on all fronts," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. He cited the collapse of Russian industry and large-scale capital flight since 1991, adding that the Russian army is currently "unable to accomplish any serious tasks." Rokhlin also vowed that his Movement in Support of the Army will stage protests seeking to force the current regime to resign, Interfax reported. Justice Minister Sergei Stepashin recently told journalists that his ministry has returned the registration application of the Movement in Support of the Army to Rokhlin, RFE/RL reported on 7 November. Stepashin said the application raised questions as to the main goals of the movement. LB


Nine Russian pilots returned to Moscow on 10 November following three weeks of captivity in the Republic of Congo, Russian news agencies reported. Congolese authorities arrested 11 Russian pilots on 17 October on charges that they had delivered weapons to former President Pascal Lissouba. Following negotiations with Russian Foreign Ministry officials, the Congolese authorities released four of the pilots on 6 November and the remaining seven three days later. However, two Russian pilots decided to stay in Congo to work for a Belgian company rather than return to Moscow. They signed a document accepting "full responsibility" for that decision. LB


Former St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak has left Russia to seek treatment abroad for a heart ailment, RFE/RL's correspondent in St. Petersburg reported on 10 November. There were conflicting reports as to whether he flew to Paris or to New York. Sobchak was hospitalized on 3 October after falling ill during questioning in a corruption investigation against former associates. He was discharged from hospital on 7 November, but had reportedly agreed to an upcoming cardiogram and possible heart surgery in St. Petersburg. Gennadii Khubulava, the deputy head of the clinic where Sobchak was being treated, told journalists that Sobchak went abroad because his doctors had received anonymous threats. However, some observers believe that Sobchak deceived both his doctors and investigators in order to flee Russia. Law enforcement authorities have been investigating Sobchak, although no criminal charges have been filed against him. LB


Some 2,000 protesters, including Orthodox priests, picketed the Ostankino television center, where the private network NTV's studios are located, Reuters reported on 9 November. Placards protesting plans to broadcast Martin Scorsese's film "The Last Temptation of Christ," read, among other things, "Satan controls NTV" and "Zionism will destroy Russia." (Vladimir Gusinskii, whose Media-Most company owns NTV, is president of the Russian Jewish Congress.) The 7 November issue of the opposition newspaper "Sovetskaya Rossiya" also denounced plans to show the film. NTV general producer Leonid Parfenov remarked in a 9 November interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau that neither the Russian Orthodox Church nor opposition groups objected when NTV showed the films "Jesus of Montreal" and "Jesus Christ, Superstar," which Parfenov described as equally "non-traditional" approaches to the subject. LB


Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Shevtsov announced on 10 November that the Tatar government has paid Gazprom 70 percent of the 210 billion rubles ($35.6 million) owed for gas supplies in October, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. Gazprom cut supplies of gas to several regions of Tatarstan the previous month because of non-payment of debts. Senior Tatar government officials and Gazprom representatives recently reached agreement on repaying 90 percent of the republic's total 4.3 trillion ruble debt to Gazprom by year's end. In November, enterprises in Tatarstan are required to pay 80 percent of the cost of gas supplied that month. In December, that figure rises to 90 percent. LF


The first oil from the Chirag Caspian field that the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) is developing came on stream on 8 November, one year later than originally anticipated. An AIOC spokesman told ITAR-TASS that output from the first well is expected to reach 10,000 barrels a day. The Azerbaijani parliament on 7 November ratified a $2 billion contract that the Mobil and Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR signed in August to explore the Oguz Caspian field, Turan reported. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani oil extracted on-shore by SOCAR has begun flowing through the Chechen sector of the Baku-Grozny-Novorossiisk pipeline, Russian agencies reported on 9 November. LF


The three OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen held "intensive" talks with the leadership of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic in Stepanakert on 7-8 November, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. Karabakh Foreign Minister Naira Melkumyan told Interfax on 8 November that the enclave's leadership rejected unspecified "new proposals" by the co-chairmen. Karabakh had rejected an earlier draft peace proposal in October. Karabakh President Arkadii Ghukasyan, in an interview with Interfax, said Azerbaijan plans to divide Nagorno-Karabakh into Armenian and Azerbaijani sectors on the Cypriot model. No details have been released of the scheduled talks in Yerevan on 8 November between the Minsk Group co-chairmen and Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. LF


Nadezhda Mikhailova met in Yerevan on 7 November with her Armenian counterpart, Aleksander Arzoumanian, President Ter-Petrossyan and other senior officials to discuss expanding bilateral ties within the framework of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, ARMENPRESS and ITAR-TASS reported. Businessmen traveling with Mikhailova signed an agreement on cooperation and mutual assistance with the Union of Businessmen and Industrialists of Armenia. The next day in Tbilisi, Mikhailova met with President Eduard Shevardnadze and Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili to discuss possible U.S. and Japanese investment in the planned TRASECA transport corridor linking Central Asia, the Transcaucasus, and Europe. Mikhailova extended invitations to Ter-Petrossyan, Arzoumanian, and Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan to visit Bulgaria next year. Shevardnadze is scheduled to travel to Sofia in the near future. LF


Shevardnadze on 7 November signed two decrees pardoning a total of1,378 convicts, including 420 first offenders, Interfax reported. Presidential press secretary Vakhtang Abashidze said the amnesty is part of an ongoing policy of reconciliation. Earlier this year, 50 prisoners who had been sentenced to death were pardoned. LF


President Nursultan Nazarbayev was in Akmola on 8 November to participate in a ceremony at which the national flag and presidential standard that had hung in Almaty were hoisted in their new surroundings, ITAR-TASS reported. Nazarbayev was accompanied by newly appointed Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev and members of the cabinet. Despite the transfer of the national symbols, the Kazakh parliament does not move to Akmola until 10 December in accordance with a decree that Nazarbayev signed in October. Nazarbayev will not take up residence in the new capital until spring 1998, when new government buildings are scheduled to be completed. BP


Ten people were injured in clashes between rival demonstrators on the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, Ukrainian media reported on 7 November. Elsewhere, rival groups marched without incident. But for some young Ukrainians, the revolution was very far away indeed. According to ITAR-TASS, a poll of fifth graders in Crimea found that many identified Napoleon or even Hitler as the leader of the October 1917 putsch that brought Lenin and the Bolsheviks to power. PG


The Ukrainian Interior Ministry acknowledged to the Council of Europe on 7 November that Kyiv has executed 13 convicted criminals this year, despite public assurances from senior Ukrainian officials that all such actions have been halted. But the Ukrainian Interior Ministry is reported to have now issued orders suspending all executions. PG


During a visit to the troubled reactor site on 7 November, President Leonid Kuchma reiterated that Kyiv will not close the Chornobyl plant until the West finances an alternative power-generating plant, Interfax reported. But officials said the number of workers at the plant will be reduced from 6,000 to 3,000 over the next year. PG


Demonstrators in Minsk, Mohylev, and other Belarusian cities carried portraits of Lenin, Stalin, and current Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka to mark the anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution, Belarusian media reported on 7 November. In a move reminiscent of Soviet practices, Lukashenka opened two new metro stations in the Belarusian capital and said that "the main lesson" of 1917 was that the authorities always need "to act in such a way that the masses don't want a revolution." PG


Prime Minister Mart Siimann and Bank of Estonia President Vahur Kraft have signed a memorandum with the IMF aimed at maintaining economic stability and preventing the economy from overheating, ETA and BNS reported on 7 November. The document pledges that until the end of 1998, Tallinn will continue with the currency-board system , strict monetary and conservative budgetary policies, and privatization. It also provides for a 1.2 billion kroons ($85.7 million) stabilization fund, drawing largely on privatization revenues. Earlier this year, disagreement over the size of that fund held up the signing of the memorandum. JC


The Latvian parliament's office has banned former Communist Party leader Alfreds Rubiks from entering the parliament building, BNS reported on 7 November. Rubiks, who was released from prison two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997), wanted to attend a press conference in that building organized by Socialist deputies. The head of the parliament's office said Rubiks is included on a list of people who are banned out of fear they may disturb order in the parliament. Socialist deputies say they will file complaints with international organizations over what they call the legislature's "undemocratic" decision. JC


Speaking at the Warsaw Oriental Studies Center on 6 November, Aleksandr Kwasniewski said he hopes for good relations with Moscow but warned they might not always be possible, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 November. "One should not forget," Kwasniewski added, "about the possible dangers too, because a whole line of political groups in Russia are now speculating on great-power sentiments, and their popularity is tending to grow due to difficult living conditions and the still unrealized necessity of economic reforms." In other comments, he stressed that "an independent, sovereign, and developing Ukraine" is "among the main prerequisites for stability in Europe."PG


The new Polish cabinet on 8 November authorized Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek to make Poland's application to NATO official, PAP reported. In another move, the new center-right government approved a draft concordat with the Vatican, which has been on hold since the left came to power in 1993. The main opposition party, however, announced it will oppose the agreement. Meanwhile, Father Henryk Jankowski, who was suspended for anti-Semitic remarks, told journalists on 8 November that he will ignore his bishop's "gag order." PG


More than 60,000 workers marched in Prague on 8 November to protest the government's austerity program, CTK reported. The same day, President Vaclav Havel left the hospital briefly to officially appoint three new ministers. Havel's doctors said his condition is improving. Also on 8 November, two Czech skinheads attacked and killed a Sudanese exchange student, provoking outrage among the population and government alike. A massive demonstration has been called for 10 November to protest such attacks. The previous day, "Lidove Noviny" published excerpts from a protest letter being circulated by students who believe that religious instruction in schools features anti-Semitic elements. PG


In an open letter published in most Bratislava newspapers on 7 November, Interior Minister Gustav Krajci sharply criticized suggestions by U.S. Ambassador Ralph Johnson that the Slovak government took itself out of the running for NATO membership as a result of its anti-reformist policies. Johnson had made the comments in a recent interview with the Bratislava daily "Pravda." PG


In an interview with "Nepszava" published on 10 November, Independent Smallholder deputy Sandor Kavassy argued that efforts should continue to amend the 1920 Trianon peace treaty. Kavassy, who is to replace Agnes Nagy Maczo as deputy parliamentary chairman, said "ethnic borders and political borders must be brought into harmony sooner or later." Asked whether the re-negotiation of the Trianon treaty should be raised after Hungary joins NATO, Viktor Orban, who is chairman of the Alliance of Young Democrats-Hungarian Civic Party, told an opposition forum two days earlier that "there would be nobody to sit down with for such talks." Orban recalled late Prime Minister Jozsef Antall as saying Trianon is "something one should always think about but never talk about." MSZ


Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic told RFE/RL in Banja Luka on 7 November that plans are under way to form what she called a "democratic consortium" of Serbian political leaders. That body will consist of herself, Serbian opposition leader Zoran Djindjic, and Montenegrin President-elect Milo Djukanovic. Plavsic said the group wants to promote democracy among all Serbs and to end the Serbs' international isolation. PM


Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's office issued a statement on 7 November warning NATO that problems associated with the Dayton peace agreements will have to be "solved through agreements, cooperation, and confidence...without partiality or [attempts at] imposing solutions." The statement was issued following a visit to Belgrade by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and NATO's supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, U.S. General Wesley Clark. PM


Solana, speaking in Berlin on 8 November, urged the international community to begin considering the possibility of a permanent police role for itself in Bosnia. "A properly-equipped and well-funded international police force that would be available at short notice would also significantly raise our abilities of effective crisis management." Solana has proposed that the mandate for NATO's peacekeepers, which runs out in June 1998, be extended. With regard to his statement on the international police force, Solana is probably the first person of his rank to publicly suggest that the international community maintain a permanent armed presence in Bosnia. PM


The multi-ethnic council of the disputed strategic town of Brcko held its constituent session on 7 November. Observers described the meeting as long and stormy but without incident. Parties from the Republika Srpska hold 30 seats, while political groups from the mainly Croatian and Muslim federation have 26. In three districts of Mostar the following day, however, Muslim council members did not assume their mandates, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Mostar. The Muslims are engaged in a procedural dispute with members of the Croat majorities on the three bodies. PM


Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Drnovsek signed two economic cooperation agreements in Sarajevo on 7 November. Drnovsek led a large trade delegation to promote business links between the two former Yugoslav republics and to cut Slovenia 's huge trade surplus with Bosnia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 October 1997). It was the first such high-level meeting between the two countries' leaderships. Slovenia is anxious to recapture and expand its pre-independence market share in other former Yugoslav republics. PM


Outgoing U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith told the Rijeka daily "Novi List" of 8 November that Croatia is entitled to reparations from Belgrade for the damage totaling billions of dollars that Croatia suffered during the 1990-1995 war. Galbraith says he believes that "Croatia has the right to demand war reparations for these damages. One of the possibilities Croatia has is to sue and gain satisfaction through legal means. Whatever happens we will support Croatia's right to sue.... Similarly, we support Bosnia-Herzegovina's right to accuse Serbia of genocide." PM


Srboljub Suntic told the Belgrade daily "Dnevni telegraf" of 9 November that he killed 120 Croats, including civilians, in Serb-held parts of Croatia between 1993 and 1995. The former paramilitary said he decided to tell his story in order to expose the Milosevic "regime that first made [young Serbian nationalists] killers and then turned its back on us." Another ex-paramilitary made a similar confession the previous week (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 7 November 1997). The Serbian government has angered many Serbian nationalists because it did not help the Krajina Serbs repel Croatia's offensives in 1995 and refused to give most Croatian Serb refugees Yugoslav citizenship or refugee benefits. PM


Some 1,000 persons, mainly Roma and Jews, demonstrated in Belgrade on 9 November to mark the International Day for the Struggle against Fascism and Racism, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. In Zagreb, demonstrators erected a temporary monument on the site of a prison where the Ustashe tortured political prisoners during World War II, according to an RFE/RL correspondent in Zagreb. PM


Kosovar shadow-state leader Ibrahim Rugova said in Pristina on 7 November that he is willing to hold his first-ever meeting with Milosevic if the Yugoslav president first implements a year-old Kosovar-Serbian agreement on restoring Albanian-language education in the province. Rugova added that talks aimed at setting up a meeting with Milosevic are under way (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). Also in Pristina, the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army on 9 November claimed responsibility for the recent grenade attack on the Podujevo town hall (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 November 1997). PM


Interior Minister Neritan Ceka has given the Tirana prosecutor's office criminal evidence against former President Sali Berisha, "Zeri i Popullit" reported on 8 November. Ceka argues that Berisha deliberately freed 58 dangerous criminals on 15 March in order to sabotage the elections some two months later. An unnamed legal adviser to Berisha denied the charges, saying the only truly dangerous criminals Berisha may have freed or pardoned are those now in the government, "Rilindja Demokratike" reported on 9 November. Prime Minister Fatos Nano was imprisoned under Berisha on political charges and then pardoned earlier this year. FS


Sabit Brokaj has asked the state anti-corruption agency to reopen its investigation into his predecessor Safet Zhulali, "Gazeta Shqiptare" reported on 9 November. In 1992, Zhulali was charged with involvement in the disappearance of $300,000 in connection with arms purchases from Bulgaria. The case was subsequently dropped for lack of evidence. In other news, local government officials across the country staged a one-day strike on 7 November to protest central government interference in their work. FS


French National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen on 8 November told a congress of Romania's extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM) that nationalism is the only means to fight U.S. "hegemonic" plans for a new world order. PRM leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor said his party is pursuing an "enlightened nationalism" and wants to lead the country to "popular capitalism." He also announced that miners' leader Miron Cozma, who is in detention pending the outcome of his trial for involvement in the September 1991 rampage in Bucharest, has joined the PRM. The next day, Tudor was re-elected PRM leader, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He ran unopposed. MS


In an interview with an RFE/RL correspondent in Berlin on 7 November, Emil Constantinescu said he realizes the prosecutor-general's decision to start legal proceedings for the rehabilitation of members of Marshal Ion Antonescu's government has "delicate international implications" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 October 1997). He added that the six ministers were "outstanding Romanian cultural figures" not associated with any of the "negative aspects" of Antonescu's rule. Constantinescu told a forum in Berlin organized by the Herbert Quant Foundation and the "Financial Times" that East European countries no longer fear "armed aggressions of a truly classic type" but infiltration of their state structures by mafia-type groups. MS


Visiting Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin told journalists in Chisinau on 7 November that experts representing the two sides will meet before the end of 1997 to discuss the pending basic treaty between the two countries. Severin said the experts must produce a "pragmatic" document" that is "void of rhetoric," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Observers interpret Severin's statement as implying that Bucharest no longer insists on including a denunciation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact in the treaty. Moldova viewed that demand as subverting its independence. President Petru Lucinschi said the treaty is still pending due to the "incorrectness" of "some [Romanian] experts" in the past but added that an agreement seems possible before year's end. He also said he may have an "unofficial meeting" with President Emil Constantinescu later this year. MS


Vladimir Voronin, the leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists, said at a ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution that his party wants the "restoration of the Soviet federation of sovereign republics." Voronin said the collapse of the Soviet Union was "inspired by world imperialism," and he called the then presidents of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus "Judases" for having signed the agreement that put an end to the USSR. The 1917 revolution anniversary was also marked in Tiraspol by the leadership of the separatists. MS


The parliament on 7 November passed a law returning all property confiscated during the communist regime, RFE/RL's Sofia bureau reported. In 1992, the short-lived government led by the United Democratic Forces passed legislation providing for partial restitution, but the Socialist-led government stalled that process. The new law says owners whose property no longer exists will be compensated by equities in enterprises built on their land or will be paid compensation for the confiscated property in cash equal to the property's estimated current market value or in government bonds. The law also restores nationalized property to religious communities. MS


by Floriana Fossato

Changes are under way at Russian Television (RTR) and Russian Public Television (ORT), the country's main nationwide networks.

Kultura, a new cultural channel that is de-facto a department of the fully state-owned RTR, began broadcasting on 1 November. It has a potential audience of some 100 million in European Russia and uses a frequency formerly used by St. Petersburg Channel 5. Unlike rival channels (including RTR), "Kultura" does not have advertising, Instead, it relies fully on state subsidies.

The network's first broadcast was a recorded message from President Boris Yeltsin, who chairs the network's board of trustees and who signed a decree in August that ordered the launching of Kultura. Yeltsin said hopes the channel will increase the profile of the arts and the general level of culture in society. He added that the new network will have to "fight for an audience, find its own style" to attract a public that has grown accustomed to a wide choice of televised entertainment. The launching of Kultura, Yeltsin continued, fulfills the aspirations of artists and many others "who have long been waiting" for a serious approach to culture and discussions on "spiritual values, morality, faith, education, and Russia's cultural and historical heritage."

Oleg Poptsov, who chaired RTR from 1990 until his dismissal in 1996, told RFE/RL that he is skeptical about Kultura's prospects. Poptsov said it is "absurd" and "ignorant" to think that the network will be able to survive purely on state funding. He predicted that the network will soon be partly privatized, as was the Channel 1 network ORT two years ago. According to Poptsov, the focus on cultural and educational programming is unlikely to continue, if financial groups, at some stage, acquire shares in the new channel.

In an implicit admission that problems could arise, Mikhail Shvydkoi, the director of Kultura, said recently that the new channel is a very ambitious project and could face financial difficulties.

Mikhail Lesin, the recently appointed deputy chairman of RTR, told "Kommersant daily" that "with respect to profitability, everything is clear. Everybody knows culture has never been profitable." Lesin was a founder of one of Russia's most successful advertisement companies, Video International, which is reported to be RTR's exclusive advertising agent. Moreover, the majority of RTR's prime-time programs are produced by Video International. Some observers have speculated that Video International has been playing a growing role in financing RTR.

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told RFE/RL in August that he is in favor of the state re-establishing control over both the finances and the "ideological foundation" of ORT. He also attacked tycoon-turned-politician Boris Berezovskii, whom Yeltsin sacked as deputy secretary of the Security Council on 5 November. An unnamed Kremlin official said the same day that Nemtsov and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais were behind Berezovskii's dismissal.

Berezovskii's business interests include stakes in the giant car dealer LogoVAZ and in the Aeroflot and Transaero airlines. Through his business holdings, Berezovskii owns an eight percent stake of ORT and is reported to maintains control over some top ORT managers, who formerly were top LogoVAZ managers. Obedinennyi Bank, a LogoVAZ affiliate, belongs to the four-bank consortium that owns 38 percent of ORT.

Berezovskii was appointed to the Security Council following last year's presidential election. In the electoral campaign, newspapers, magazines, and particularly television channels linked to a group of powerful bankers and businessmen played a key role in boosting Yeltsin's ratings. Following his appointment, Berezovskii said he had delegated all his business commitments, including his position on ORT's board of directors. But Nemtsov said in August that "even if formally Berezovskii has now delegated the running of his business, he is de facto dealing only with this."

Nemtsov also said that Berezovskii had "invented and developed to the very end a peculiar privatization scheme" that was applied at ORT, Aeroflot, and other companies. According to Nemtsov, Berezovskii first "privatized" the company's top managers. Formally the company belongs to the state, Nemtsov said, but "the money it needs is being channeled through private companies."

A 12-member council of government representatives at ORT recently held its first meeting. State Property Minister Maksim Boiko chaired the council, which also includes Yeltsin's daughter and presidential adviser Tatyana Dyachenko, Yeltsin's spokesman and deputy head of administration Sergei Yastrzhembskii, government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin, ITAR-TASS director-general Vitalii Ignatenko, and Mikhail Kommissar, another deputy head of the presidential administration.

Boiko said the board will work out and implement a policy aimed at developing a "standard mechanism for managing government stakes in strategically important companies." He said similar councils have been set up in some of Russia's monopolies, notably the gas giant Gazprom, the electricity monopoly Unified Energy Systems, and in the pipeline monopoly Transneft. An ORT shareholders' meeting, scheduled to take place on 13 November, is to choose a director-general and a new board of directors. At that meeting, ORT may become an open joint-stock company, which Berezovskii has already said he opposes in principle.

The author is a Moscow-based RFE/RL correspondent.