|The universe is full of magical things, patiently waiting for our wits to grow sharper. - Eden Phillpotts|
No. 23, Part I, 1 February 1995
We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. The Digest is distriubed in two sections. This part focuses on Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, and the CIS. Part II, distributed simultaneously as a second document, covers East-Central and Southeastern Europe. 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 STALEMATE IN GROZNY. Despite intensified Russian artillery bombardment of Grozny, the Chechens yielded no ground on 31 January, Western agencies reported. A spokesman for the Russian Interior Ministry affirmed that the Chechens had switched to guerrilla tactics, ITAR-TASS reported. Fierce fighting was also reported in the village of Samashki west of Grozny, where, on 30 January, Chechen forces had repelled a Russian armored column attempting to advance on the capital, according to Reuters. Meanwhile, Russian troops were concentrating in the village of Gudermes, east of Grozny, on the main highway to Dagestan where Chechen defenders control a strategic bridge, AFP reported. In an interview given to Argumenty i fakty and summarized by ITAR-TASS on 31 January, Federal Counterintelligence Service (FSK) Director Sergei Stepashin argued that the Russian leadership had no alternative to the use of force in Chechnya. While terming the prospect of a prolonged partisan war remote, Stepashin disclosed that his agency plans to establish a department of up to 800 men in Chechnya to "confiscate weapons and detain gangsters." Ingush President Ruslan Aushev denied earlier Russian statements that Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev was in Ingushetia under his personal protection, Ekho Moskvy reported on 31 January. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc. OSCE DELEGATION CONDEMNS RUSSIAN ACTION IN CHECHNYA. The Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) fact-finding mission has condemned the "disproportionate and indiscriminate" Russian use of military force against Chechnya. The head of the mission, Hungarian diplomat Istvan Gyarmati, said the situation in Chechnya borders on "catastrophe," according to international agencies. The delegation will report to OSCE headquarters on 2 February. Gyarmati has said he will urge early elections in Chechnya, so that "the Chechen people's legitimate representatives can hold talks on the status of the republic within the Russian Federation." Russian authorities have fully cooperated with the OSCE, according to Gyarmati. Speaking on 31 January with Willy Wimmer, deputy chairman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin defended the Russian military by stressing that when troops "came into contact with the most modern weapons," they "were forced to respond accordingly," ITAR TASS reported. Some Russian media also took a different view of the OSCE mission than the Western press. The daily Izvestiya ran this headline on 31 January: "After Chechnya, OSCE Delegation 'Sympathizes' With Russia." The article stressed Gyarmati's comment that the territorial integrity of Russia must be preserved. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO DEBATE CHECHNYA IN SPECIAL SESSION The Council of Europe (CE) will hold a special session on 2 February to debate the Chechnya situation, Reuters reports. The CE's political questions committee proposed draft legislation on 30 January that would defer consideration of Russian membership until the situation in Chechnya is cleared up. The resolution specified: "Only when Russia's president, government, and parliament offer a full report on how the conflict will be ended and how its consequences will be remedied will the (membership) procedure be taken up." Russian official reaction to the delay was highly critical. According to Interfax, Duma Speaker Rybkin said a rejection of Russia's request for membership would be "a gross political error." Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai said the CE would "freeze its own transformation into an organization for all Europe" if it continued to stall on Russia's application. He also called Russian Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev "a religious fanatic." Kovalev, who was in Strasbourg where the CE is meeting, said: "As long as blood is being spilt in Chechnya, it is absurd, immoral, and blasphemous to discuss membership." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIAN CASUALTIES IN CHECHNYA CONTINUE TO MOUNT. At least 735 Russian troops have been killed and 2,500 wounded in Chechnya, AFP reported on 31 January, quoting official sources. Those figures do not include unidentified bodies in morgues, nor the losses of the FSK. The casualty toll includes 395 members of the ground forces, 213 paratroopers, 68 Interior Ministry forces, 56 marines, and 3 frontier guards. These figures indicate that 182 servicemen have been killed since 20 January--the day Defense Minister Pavel Grachev declared the military part of the operation over. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. GAIDAR SAYS CHECHNYA WAR WEAKENED DEMOCRATS. The intervention in Chechnya has weakened Russia's democratic forces and strengthened the military and intelligence service, said former acting Prime Minister Egor Gaidar in an interview with the German TV station ARD, cited by dpa on 31 January. Warning of "a very dangerous development" in Russia, Gaidar said: "[President Boris] Yeltsin's closest aides agree with everything he says and only pass on information that will not disturb him. However, in this way the servants are secretly taking over the regime." -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. RYBKIN DENOUNCES ZHIRINOVSKY'S BEHAVIOR. Duma Speaker Rybkin attacked the behavior of Vladimir Zhirinovsky as "totally inadmissible," AFP reported 31 January. Rybkin was reacting to Zhirinovsky's comment at a Council of Europe meeting in Strasbourg on 30 January that Russia's most outspoken critic of the Chechen war, Sergei Kovalev, was "a scum" and that he belonged "in a concentration camp." Zhirinovsky also accused Kovalev of lying when he condemned human rights violations by the Russian armed forces in Chechnya. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. KARASIN SAYS OUTBURSTS IN CONGRESS STRAIN US-RUSSIAN RELATIONS. "Confrontational outbursts in the US Congress are fraught with the danger of seriously complicating our relations and do not reflect the national interests of the United States itself," said Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin, according to a Los Angeles Times report on 31 January. Karasin's statement was in response to a bill, introduced last month by Rep. Gerald Solomon, that would make American aid dependent on Russia's arms control policies, its behavior toward its neighbors, and progress toward a free-market economy. Karasin warned that appeals to "punish Russia" were not acceptable. His remarks were a sign of the growing strain between the US and Russia since the Republicans took control of Congress in November and the beginning of the Chechen war in December. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. DUMA ELECTIONS IN DECEMBER. Aleksandr Ivanchenko, deputy chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, said elections to the lower house of Russia's parliament will be held in December, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January. The December date is in line with the constitution, but Vladimir Shumeiko, the chairman of parliament's upper house, said only last week he believes the current parliament's term should be extended by another two years. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIA TO CONTINUE SELLING ARMS TO PERU. Foreign Ministry spokesman Karasin said Russian arms sales to Peru would continue "in accordance with international law and depending on how the situation in the region develops," AFP reported on 31 January. Military skirmishes have erupted recently between Peru and Ecuador over a disputed border region. According to a Segodnya report, quoted by the agency, Russia had recently cut off its arms sales to Peru because the South American country had not paid for previous deliveries. But the report said contacts between Russian and Peruvian defense officials were renewed after the recent hostilities broke out. Peru has Russian jet fighters, attack helicopters, and tanks in its military. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. PROTOTYPE OF NEW RUSSIAN TANK SPOTTED. Russia has built the prototype for a revolutionary new main battle tank, according to the 25 January issue of Jane's Defense Weekly. It was said to have been first spotted at the Scientific and Research Institute for Armor and Technology at Kubinka, near Moscow, late last year. The magazine said the tank was fitted with an externally mounted, long-barreled gun which might have a caliber of 135-140 millimeters. This would give it a greater armor penetration capability than the 125 mm smooth-bore gun on the most modern Russian tanks in service. The new tank was said to have a three-man crew. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. VLADISLAV LISTEV: OSTANKINO TURNS "PUBLIC" ON 1 APRIL. Vladislav Listev, the new general director of Russian Public TV, formerly known as Ostankino, announced that he begins his tenure on 1 February and repeated that he will turn the station into the best channel in the country. Listev reminded viewers of "Vremya" on 31 January that the formerly state-owned broadcasting company was made "public" by a presidential decree in 1994. In fact, this means it became a joint-stock company with the state retaining a 51% stake. Listev said Ostankino starts functioning as a public TV station on 1 April. Listev founded and hosted some of Russia's most popular political and entertainment shows. A few of them, however, have become considerably less popular under Listev's hand-picked successors. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc. SOUTHERN RUSSIA COAL MINERS ON STRIKE. All 26 mines of the Rostovugol coal mine complex in southern Russia went on strike on 1 February because of pay delays, trade union officials reported to AFP. Ivan Mokhnachuk, a coal union representative, told AFP that the government owed Russian miners back pay totaling 893 billion rubles ($220 million) in 1994 and 600 billion rubles ($150 million) so far this year. Yurii Malyshev, chairman of the Rosugol coal production enterprise, said he would meet government officials to seek a solution to the crisis. Coal mining enterprises are owed more than 2.1 trillion rubles ($523 million). The larger part of that is owed by industrial consumers, mainly electricity producers, while the rest, about 850 billion rubles ($212 million), is owed by the government from budget allocations. Meanwhile, miners in the northern Russian town of Vorkuta and the town of Perm in the Ural Mountains warned that they were also prepared to halt operations, Interfax reported. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. ACTING CHIEF AFFIRMS PRIVATIZATION WILL CONTINUE. Russia's new acting privatization chief, Petr Mostovoi, stressed that the privatization process will continue and recently privatized firms will not be nationalized, according to Russian and Western agencies on 31 January. Mostovoi replaced Vladimir Polevanov, who was dismissed on 24 January for urging the reversal of some recent privatizations in the fuel and aluminum industries. Mostovoi said Russia must "emphasize that our relations with foreign investors remains on the same basis as they were before Polevanov." Investors in Russia's small securities markets panicked in mid-January when Polevanov suggested that some firms be renationalized. Share prices fell sharply as foreign investors shied away from the market. Mostovoi, formerly a deputy to reform chief Anatolii Chubais, said the "participation of foreign investors in Russia is a factor in the integration of Russia in the world community . . . one which promotes positive economic process, both in our country and in countries from where capital comes." Russia's current priorities in the field of privatization include the creation of a favorable investment climate, financial stabilization, clear rules on tax and investment policies, and clarification of the state's role in the privatization process. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN VETOES RISE IN MINIMUM PENSION. President Yeltsin vetoed a law passed by parliament which would have raised the monthly minimum pension to 54,100 rubles and indexed pensions to cost of living increases, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 January. The president admitted pensioners need the extra money but said the country cannot afford it. Instead, Yeltsin issued a decree doubling the minimum pension from 19,660 to 39,360 rubles a month to compensate for price hikes in the last quarter of 1994. The parliament has also voted to triple the minimum wage, which critics say will unduly increase the budget deficit. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. As of 12:00 CET Compiled by Victor Gomez 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. The publication can also be obtained for a fee in printed form by fax and postal mail. 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