|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
Vol. 1, No. 15, 20 January 1995
We welcome you to the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest Part I--a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, and the CIS. Part II, covering East-Central and Southeastern Europe, is distributed simultaneously as a second document. The Daily Digest picks up where the RFE/RL Daily Report, which recently ceased publication, left off. Contributors include OMRI's 30-member staff of analysts, plus selected freelance specialists. OMRI is a unique public-private venture between the Open Society Institute and the U.S. Board for International Broadcasting. RUSSIA CHECHENS ABANDON PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. In what Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev described as a "turning point" in the war in Chechnya, Russian troops took control of the devastated presidential palace in central Grozny during the afternoon of 19 January after the Chechen defenders decided to abandon the building and establish a new center of resistance elsewhere in Grozny, Interfax and Western agencies reported. Interfax quoted Russian military intelligence sources as claiming that the Chechens had suffered "substantial losses." In a statement issued after the Russian military took control of the palace, Russian President Boris Yeltsin claimed that the military stage of reestablishing constitutional order in Chechnya was almost completed, and that Interior Ministry forces would take over the mission of restoring law and order. Yeltsin further voiced his respects for the Russian soldiers killed during the fighting and for the "suffering of the civilian population." Also on 19 January, Russian Interior Ministry forces consolidated control of eastern Chechnya, according to Reuters. Grozny was subjected to intensive Russian artillery fire during the night of 19 January in an attempt to wipe out remaining pockets of Chechen resistance, AFP reported. On 20 January, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev met with journalists in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, and declared that Chechen resistance would continue; as quoted by Reuters, he claimed that neither Yeltsin nor Chernomyrdin was in control of the situation. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc. CHERNOMYRDIN REJECTS TALKS WITH DUDAEV. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin rejected the possibility of talks with Dzhokhar Dudaev, saying "I do not talk to gangsters," Interfax reported 19 January. He told a group of journalists that the situation in Chechnya is often fanned by "the likes of you," implying the media, and by "some hot heads in parliament." He said that there is no war party in the cabinet or Russia in general. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. KOVALEV TO MEET CHERNOMYRDIN, NOT YELTSIN. Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev returned to Moscow from the Chechen capital Grozny on 19 January. Russian television newscasts broadcast footage of Kovalev's news conference at Vnukovo airport in Moscow where he stated that the Chechen war would not be finished even after the Russian occupation of Grozny. The military has been preparing for a guerrilla war, Kovalev added, showing a leaflet in which a Russian commander stationed in Chechnya threatens rural villages with destruction if they shelter Chechen fighters. Kovalev said that he was going to meet with Viktor Chernomyrdin, not Boris Yeltsin--indirectly hinting that he blamed the atrocities in Chechnya on Yeltsin. On the same day, Yeltsin's closest ally, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, told the RTV program "Details," that he could not name anyone in the world as knowledgeable on human rights as Kovalev. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc. ATTEMPT TO IMPEACH YELTSIN FAILS. Following three days of heated debates, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament approved on 19 January a resolution on the Chechen crisis, Russian television newscasts reported that day. The Federation Council senators rejected nearly all strong measures proposed by the various committees of the house. Proposals included starting the impeachment process against Yeltsin; and prosecuting him for exceeding his authority and violating the constitution in the form of dispatching the army to Chechnya without declaring either military or emergency rule. Although approximately half of the senators present voted for the resolution, the total votes (61) fell far short of the necessary 90 votes required. A vote of no confidence in Chernomyrdin's government received 66 votes, also short of the 90 needed. A third failed proposal entailed barring the Federation Council's speaker, Vladimir Shumeiko, from participating in sessions of the President's Security Council. The chamber succeeded in passing a resolution introducing amendments into the constitution to ensure parliamentary and public control over the executive branch of the government. Another resolution approved called on acting Russian Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko to bring criminal charges against those responsible for illegal sales of Russian weaponry to Chechen forces. (In his address to the Council of Federation, the chairman of its Defense Committee, Petr Shirshov, named Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev as being responsible such actions.) -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc. COUNCIL OF FEDERATION EXASPERATED. The 18 January session of the Federation Council became heated after it was snubbed by top Russian officials. On the eve of the session, members of the chamber, who refer to themselves as "the Russian senators," invited President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Minister of Internal Affairs Viktor Erin, secretary of the Security Council Oleg Lobov and acting Russian Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko to attend the session, which was supposed to discuss the situation in Chechnya. Only Ilyushenko arrived, while other officials told the chamber that they were too busy to attend the session. According to Russian Television newscasts, the deliberate absence of the other top officials caused an uproar in the upper chamber and its members then proposed several measures, starting with the dissolution of the Federation Council and including demands for the resignation of Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin and the "power" ministers. The senators particularly lambasted the Security Council, which they hold responsible for the decision to invade Chechnya, and their own speaker, Vladimir Shumeiko, a Yeltsin appointee to the Security Council along with Ivan Rybkin, speaker of the State Duma. Ostankino's "Vremya" broadcast two minutes of the footage of the address of the famous reform-minded senator, Yurii Chernichenko, attacking the Security Council as "the new Politburo," and the "secretive, illegal, dictatorial body" that "has unleashed a civil war" in Russia. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc. EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PUTS EU-RUSSIAN PARTNERSHIP ACCORD ON HOLD. The European Parliament voted 19 January to put the partnership agreement, signed with Russia in June, on hold, AFP reports. The European Parliament, the legislative arm of the European Union, made the move to show its displeasure with Russian military actions in Chechnya. The action must be approved by EU foreign ministers, who are expected to back the suspension. The European Parliament denounced "the totally disproportionate measures taken by the Russia authorities, as well as the flagrant violation of human rights which results from these measures." The European Commission had been on the verge of implementing the economic and commercial aspects of the agreement on an interim basis. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. FILATOV WARNS RUSSIAN REGIONS. Sergei Filatov, President Yeltsin's Chief of Staff, condemned various Russian regions' drive for greater autonomy as "posing a danger to the integrity of Russia," Interfax reported 18 January. He said that some regions' adoption of charters designed to give them more rights and limit federal authority had resulted in numerous violations of the constitution. Filatov ruled out "tough methods" for resolving the disputes and suggested instead that experts from the president's State Law Administration should try to persuade regional authorities to change their attitudes. If that doesn't work the federal authorities plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In a related development, Yeltsin met on 18 January with the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, Interfax reported. Tatarstan, like Chechnya, refused to sign the Russian Federation Treaty but signed a bilateral power-sharing agreement with Moscow on 3 February 1994. Shaimiev commented that the Tatarstan model had great importance because it "showed that members of the federation were able to establish normal relations on a peaceful basis." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN: YES TO PRIVATIZATION. The Russian government has no intention of stopping its privatization program or of re-nationalizing the industries that have already been privatized, President Yeltsin said at a news conference on 18 January. Yeltsin was referring to a controversial statement made by his newly appointed Chairman of the State Property Committee, Vladimir Polevanov, who told a news conference on 29 December of his plans to introduce "state control" over some privatized industries. (According to Anatolii Chubais, who was in charge of privatization in his capacity as Polevanov's predecessor as the State Property Committee's Chairman, Polevanov's statement had cost Russia billions of rubles in the form of lost foreign investments.) Yeltsin explained Polevanov's unfortunate remarks in terms of the latter's personal vendetta against Chubais, citing Polevanov's lack of experience in top government. The former head of the administration of the Amur Region at the Russian-Chinese border, Polevanov was unexpectedly promoted to an important position in Moscow, Yeltsin said, adding that Polevanov had erred by failing to understand that he had to work in one and the same team with Yeltsin's other ministers. In all fairness, it may be added that Chubais' privatization scheme that distributed the shares of formerly state-owned industries free of charge has been lambasted by many market-oriented Russian economists, such as former Minister of Finance Boris Fedorov. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc. PRESSURIZED RUBLE HITS RECORD LOW. The ruble plunged to a record low of 3,947 rubles/$1 in MICEX trading on 20 January, Western and Russian agencies reported. Dealers expected the currency to hit new lows, partly due to fears that Russia's military campaign in Chechnya will spike inflation. The ruble's previous record low was 3,926 rubles/$1 on historic "Black Tuesday," 11 October 1994. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIA'S FOREIGN TRADE INCREASES 7.2% IN 1994. Due to expanding trade links, foreign trade rose 7.2% in 1994 with a total of $76.2 billion, Russia's Foreign Economic Relations Ministry reported to Interfax on 18 January. Among Russia's largest trade partners were Germany (13% of total turnover), the US (7.3%), Britain (6.4%), Italy (5.7%), China (5%), the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and Japan (from 4.2 to 4.8%), the report said. In 1994, the majority of Russia's exports (67%), went primarily to industrialized countries of Europe. On the import front, volume in 1994 reached $28.2 billion, up $4.3 billion, or 5.4% from 1993. The main share of imports (69%), also came from industrially developed countries. Raw materials predominated the export scene, while food products and consumer goods comprised 50% of the import market. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. 80 COAL MINES TO CLOSE? Interfax reported on 17 January that Russia is examining plans to close 80 unprofitable coal mines over five years; 450,000 jobs would be lost out of a total coal-mining work-force of about 800,000. An official from the mining company Rosugol neither denied nor confirmed the report, telling Reuters "the government still has to approve the program and allocate funds to help cut the number of mines." According to Segodnya, the World Bank, which plans to lend Russia $500 million to help restructure its ailing coal industry, wants 15-25 loss-making mines to be closed a year, cutting output to match demand. A first draft of the World Bank program, submitted to the government in 1994, was rejected by Rosugol and trade unions. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA FORMER UZBEK VICE PRESIDENT TO FOUND NEW POLITICAL PARTY. In the wake of the recent Uzbek parliamentary elections that resulted in an overwhelming victory for the former Communists, Shukrulla Mirsaidov, who resigned as vice president three years ago to protest the policies of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, told Interfax on 18 January that he planned to found a new political party. To be called the Social Democratic Adolat (Justice) Party, he said it would function as a "constructive opposition" to the existing government. Mirsaidov said the party would focus on democracy, freedom of the press, private enterprise, tax reform and greater involvement of religious leaders in public life, and that it already had the necessary number of supporters to gain official registration. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc. [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Pete Baumgartner The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet Union and East-Central and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. The Daily Digest is distributed electronically via the OMRI-L list. To subscribe, send "SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L YourFirstName YourLastName" (without the quotation marks and inserting your name where shown) to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU No subject line or other text should be included. 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