|Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow; Naught may endure but Mutability. - Percy Shelley|
No. 40, Part I, 24 February 1995
We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. The Digest is distributed 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. RUSSIA SITUATION REMAINS TENSE IN GROZNY. The situation remained tense in Grozny overnight, according to a government press service report cited by Interfax. Snipers and small groups of militants systematically fired on federal troops, but no losses were sustained. Representatives of Russian troops and leaders of Chechen mountain clans met in Tolstoi-Yurt 22 February. The Chechens reported weakening support for Dudaev and growing friction among the different clans. At a Moscow news conference, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Semenov, commander-in-chief of Russian Ground Forces, said most of the soldiers involved in the Chechen fighting had less than one year of experience because senior soldiers were being demobilized. On 23 February, Yeltsin signed a decree giving the Chechen Republic special representation in his administration. The document claimed that the step was necessary to coordinate the activities of federal and republican bodies until representative bodies are set up in Chechnya. In Stavropol, Cossack leader Ataman Viktor Sharkov said Shelkovskaya and Naurskaya Raions should be transferred to the jurisdiction of Stavropol Krai. The districts were part of the krai until 1957. He said if that was accomplished, the Cossacks would send their troops there to protect the population and rebuild the economy. In particular, he stressed the need to protect the Russian population there from Dudaev's men. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. NEW PARLIAMENTARY FACTION FORMS. Vladimir Kvasov, Vyacheslav Smirnov, Viktor Mashinsky, Yevgeny Gusarov (former members of New Regional Policy), and Vladimir Bauer (a former leader of Russia's Choice) announced the formation of a new parliamentary faction, Duma-96, which intends to contest the December elections, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 24 February. So far the group has 23 members, short of the 35 required for official registration. The leaders are recruiting members among deputies representing single-member districts because they have a specific electorate and are more likely to be reelected. According to sources within the Duma, two other deputies' groups are in the process of formation, and in several cases the names on their lists coincide with the names on the Duma-96 list. According to Grigory Tomchin, of Russia's Choice, the recent explosion of new deputy factions is a result of the politicians' desire to gain reelection, rather than a reflection of differences within the existing factions, Interfax reported. He claimed that deputies from single-mandate districts will not be reelected because of general dissatisfaction with the Duma's work. It will be more difficult to win seats from party lists because Yeltsin's proposed legislation envisions only 150 seats for parties, rather than the previous 225. The deputies are trying to create new lists so that they will be among the top ten names on their party's list. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. POLTORANIN: PRESS FREEDOM VIOLATED IN RUSSIA. The freedom of Russia's media is threatened, according to Mikhail Poltoranin, chairman of the State Duma press and information committee. Poltoranin blamed two trends for the recent violations: the declining economic independence of the press, and the government's creation of "unconstitutional organs of control" over the electronic media, Ostankino TV reported on 23 February. In 1994, Poltoranin tried unsuccessfully to set up regulatory bodies for the media outside the government. Although the Duma passed three of his committee's proposed media laws, all were vetoed or ignored by President Yeltsin. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN'S POPULARITY AT NEW LOW. Only 9% of Russians now approve of President Boris Yeltsin's performance, according to recent surveys by the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion. Two-thirds of those surveyed say Yeltsin should not run for re-election next year, western agencies reported. Only 4% of respondents believe Yeltsin has managed the Chechen crisis well. In addition, 57% believe the president should resign. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN VETOES LAW ON MINIMUM WAGE. President Yeltsin has rejected a draft law to raise the minimum wage to 54,100 rubles a month, Interfax reported on 23 February. In a letter to Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin, Yeltsin said the law would cost an additional 159 trillion rubles and would lead to a sharp reduction in spending on social, investment, and other important programs. Yeltsin's economic adviser, Aleksandr Livshitz, said the presidential administration had drafted a decree containing measures to support those on low incomes in case the president rejected the draft. The veto, which had been widely expected, removes a major obstacle to a 6.25 billion standby loan from the IMF. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. NORWEGIANS SAY FIRE BROKE OUT ON RUSSIAN MISSILE SUBMARINE. The Norwegian environmental organization Bellona has claimed that a fire recently broke out aboard a Russian ballistic missile submarine on patrol in the Barents Sea, forcing the boat to return to port for repairs, Aftenposten reported on 22 February. The giant Typhoon-class missile submarine suffered a fire in its electrical system and returned to its base at Nerpichya Guba, in the Kola peninsula's Zapadnaya Litsa fjord on 11 February, Reuters reported. The account said the fire did not lead to any radioactive leaks. When on patrol, the Typhoon carries 20 SS-N-20 ballistic missiles, each armed with 10 individual nuclear warheads. "The general decay in Russia's military forces has also affected the bases in Litsa Fjord. Five of the six Typhoon submarines are currently in port undergoing repairs," Aftenposten reported. In a related development, Admiral Felix Gromov, chief of the Russian Navy, reported on 23 February that three foreign submarines had recently been detected in the Norwegian and Barents seas near Russia's border, Interfax reported. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. CHERNOMYRDIN ORDERS TIGHTER NUCLEAR SECURITY. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has ordered tighter security at Russian nuclear facilities to prevent thefts of radioactive materials, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. He made the decision despite Interior Minister Viktor Yerin's claim that not a single milligram of weapons-grade nuclear material had disappeared from the facilities. Yerin, however, admitted that 80% of the police check points at nuclear projects lacked the equipment to detect nuclear materials. Valery Menshchikov, a Security Council expert, said there is an "enormous amount" of fissile nuclear material at Russian storage facilities. As an example, he said that near Tomsk there are 23,000 containers filled with plutonium-239 and enriched uranium inside "a normal building which offers no protection against external sources of damage as, for example, the fall of an aircraft." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. MOSCOW CALLS FOR INDEFINITE PROLONGATION OF NPT. Russia has called for the indefinite prolongation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the April-May review conference, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. Grigory Berdennikov, Russia's permanent representative to the UN Conference on Disarmament, called on other countries to "take the same stand." He said that would provide "a guarantee of irreversibility for the process of nuclear disarmament rather than a mandate for the nuclear powers' interminable possession of nuclear arms." He said Russia is seeking the total elimination of nuclear weapons. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN TO PERSONALLY OVERSEE ARMY REFORMS. President Yeltsin has announced that he will personally oversee army reform, Interfax reported on 23 February. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow during a wreath-laying ceremony, he said, "Chechnya proved once again that we are dragging our feet with army reform. The matter cannot be dragged out anymore as the army is beginning to crumble." Meanwhile, service chiefs said the army and the navy are pressing ahead with reforms which will give them modern, mobile, and well-equipped units, despite economic limitations, ITAR-TASS reported. They said that although Russia's military doctrine is peaceful, the defense of the fatherland would require a military that is capable of repulsing enemy attacks. However Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said, "If there is money, there will be reforms. If there is no money, no reforms will go ahead," Ekho Moskvy reported. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. CHERNOMYRDIN ANNOUNCES FRESH ECONOMIC REFORMS. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced that the Economics Ministry will present a government program addressing economic reform for 1995-97 by 15 March, Interfax and Western sources reported on 23 February. Chernomyrdin noted the importance of creating financial stabilization, achieving stable low inflation rates, and improving the environment for both domestic and foreign investors. Steps must be taken to modernize the economy, consolidate the industrial infrastructure, and boost exports. Chernomyrdin said 60 major bills must be approved by the State Duma, including those concerning effective state property control, joint-stock companies, banks, the stock market, tax reform, investment incentive, stage two of the privatization campaign, and private real estate guarantees. The prime minister said the government must approve the bills before 12 December when parliament's mandate expires. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. DRAFT LAND CODE TO BE SUBMITTED TO STATE DUMA. The State Duma agrarian committee has completed the draft of Russia's Land Code and will submit it to the Duma Council for consideration, Interfax reported on 23 February. The agrarian committee chairman, Alexei Chernyshyov, said the draft is based on decrees presented by the government and Russia's Choice deputies. The Land Code establishes state, municipal, and private forms of ownership for land. It also allows foreigners to be participants in land transactions provided they rent land plots. The draft provides for strict control and tough restrictions on deals concerning agricultural land, including a moratorium on the sale of certain land plots. The majority of collective and Soviet farms have been reorganized into joint-stock companies, cooperatives, and associations and the land has become "the property of common ownership," he said. To date, more than 20 million hectares of land have been handed over to 44 million city and village families for ownership, gardening, and other purposes. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. MINERS POSTPONE STRIKE ULTIMATUM TO 15 MARCH. Vitaly Budko, chairman of the Coal Industry Workers' Union, announced that the union has decided to give the government until 15 March before staging an all-out strike, agencies reported on 23 February. The miners had earlier said they would picket government buildings at the end of February and go on strike on 1 March, if the government did not pay wage arrears. Budko said if a payment schedule could be agreed on before mid-March, there would be no need for a national protest. He said the government had taken steps "that make it possible to hope that the miners demands will be met in full," Interfax reported. Budko also said the union's ruling body had called on miners in Vorkuta to cancel their planned regional strike called for 1 March and to act jointly with the union. Yury Vishnevsky, the Vorkuta miners' leader, said his men would decide on 27 February whether to go ahead with the strike on 1 March. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. CIS SEMENOV DOUBTS CIS AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM POSSIBLE SOON. Col.-Gen. Vladimir Semenov, commander of Russia's Ground Forces, told Interfax on 23 February that he doubts a joint CIS air defense system could be set up any time soon. He said the elements of the old system were still intact in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, but added "everything is in shambles" in Transcaucasia--Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan--where the 19th Air Defense Army used to be stationed. He said it would be very costly to restore the system. As an alternative, he proposed a territorial air defense system based on mobile air defense and ground units. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. [As of 1200 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. 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