|To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else. - Emily Dickinson|
No. 86, Part I, 3 May 1995
We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. 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. Back issues of the Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through our WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/OMRI.html RUSSIA STEPASHIN COMMENTS ON CHECHNYA. Before leaving Moscow for Chechnya on 2 May, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Sergei Stepashin said Russian security officers had obtained personal documents belonging to Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev which reveal his links to political, financial, and military circles in Russia, Russian Public Television reported. Stepashin said Dudaev is merely a figurehead in the Chechen regime, but he declined to say who holds real power. Stepashin added that the FSB has created a special department for Chechnya, which will be one of its largest regional branches. On the same day, Stepashin told Interfax that "negotiations with the elders and with civilians in general" indicate that a full-scale guerrilla war is unlikely to develop in the Caucasus, although the special FSB branch in Chechnya will have to deal with "bandits" and organized crime. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. ONE-THIRD OF CHECHEN POPULATION SAID TO BE REFUGEES. The total number of refugees from Chechnya now exceeds 450,000, of whom 360,000 have been registered elsewhere in Russia, Federal Migration Service deputy director Yury Roshchin was quoted as saying in Segodnya on 29 April. The influx of refugees is causing problems in neighboring regions. In parts of Dagestan, for example, it is feared that overpopulation could trigger a new outbreak of cholera. The worst situation is said to be in Ingushetia, which has already accepted tens of thousands of refugees from Prigorodnyi Raion in North Ossetia. Roshchin said five temporary accommodation centers have been set up in Grozny to house people who return. He said the state will provide free building materials and payment to people who rebuild their own homes. Refugees who do not wish to return to Chechnya (about 100,000) will receive a small, one-time cash payment and a free railway ticket to the destination of their choice, Roshchin said. The government has so far allocated 913 billion rubles of the 1.9 trillion requested by the Migration Service for its Chechen program. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. COURT ORDERS RELEASE OF TWO JOURNALISTS. The Tverskoi district court in Moscow ordered the release of Dmitry Bykov and Alexander Nikonov, correspondents for the weekly Sobesednik, Ekho Moskvy reported on 28 April. The two had been held in custody since 20 April for "suspicion of hooliganism" but were never charged with a crime. The Prosecutor- General's Office opened the criminal case in connection with a 1 April article published in Sobesednik discussing the history of Russian obscenities, Interfax reported. Bykov told Ekho Moskvy that he saw a "special cynicism" in the case, since his newspaper was investigated for "referring to a few well-known words and expressions," while the hard- line newspaper Zavtra, which he called a "fascist rag," and the book Russky Mat (Russian Curses) remain widely available at local kiosks. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. THREE DETAINED AMERICANS IN FAR EAST FREED. Three U.S. citizens detained near the Chinese border on suspicion of espionage have been released, Russian and Western agencies reported on 2 May. Russian border guards said the three, who work for foreign companies in Vladivostok, were arrested on 30 April with videos of "Russian navy vessels, the border post of Khasan, and the electric signaling system," AFP reported. The U.S. State Department said the Americans were questioned for several hours by Russian authorities but were not mistreated. Spokesman Nicholas Burns told an RFE/RL correspondent that the U.S. consul in Vladivostok is looking into the case and negotiating procedures with the Russian government to prevent similar incidents. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. LEBED TO RUN FOR SEAT IN DUMA. In an interview published in the 28 April edition of Express-Khronika, 14th Army Commander Lt.-Gen. Alexander Lebed confirmed that he will leave the military and run for a seat in the State Duma. He said the Defense Ministry "decided this question for me" when it handed down the "criminal decision" to disband the 14th Army in the breakaway Transdniester region of Moldova. Lebed vowed to fight the restructuring of the 14th Army and argued that such a move would not even benefit the Moldovan government, which he said acquires "political capital" from the army's presence. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. ZHIRINOVSKY ACTIVELY CAMPAIGNING IN THE REGIONS. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky is currently in Orenburg where he delivered a speech to a crowd of citizens and public officials, his press service reported. On 30 April, he completed another trip that took him from Kaliningrad to the Tajik-Afghan border. On the border, Zhirinovsky, with the assistance of a soldier, opened fire with a machine gun on "Afghan and Tajik militants trying to penetrate into Tajikistan." During his current trip, he is planning to meet in Magnitogorsk with the parents of the soldier who helped him "defend the border." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. ROLE OF POLITICAL IMAGE-MAKERS GROWING IN RUSSIA. Sophisticated campaign consultants charged with image-building are playing a larger role in Russian elections, according to an article in the 27 April-5 May edition of Obshchaya gazeta. The article singled out the firm "Alter-Ego," which managed MMM investment fund chief Sergei Mavrodi's successful campaign for a Duma seat in November 1994 without ever showing the candidate directly to voters. The same firm is handling the 14 May Duma by- election campaign of Mavrodi's wife Elena. The author described the guiding principle for crafting a candidate's image: "people ought to want to drink vodka with him in their kitchen." In addition, the image- making industry employs "psychological symbols" to increase a candidate's appeal. Common techniques include showing the candidate playing tennis against a strong partner, visiting a church or a children's home, and taking a trip down a mining pit. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. WIDE GAP BETWEEN BASIC PRICES AND WAGES IN MOSCOW. Prices of basic goods in Moscow have increased 1,257 times compared to 1991, while average earnings increased 430 times, the Moscow Trade Union Federation's Analytic Center told Interfax on 1 May. Analysts also indicated that the subsistence level in Moscow was 457,000 rubles ($90) in March. Salaries and wages in education, health protection, science, culture, engineering, metal-working, printing, and textiles are even lower. The trade union center said the labor market situation has worsened; the number of persons employed in Moscow dropped by 365,000 in 1994. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIA'S NATURAL RESOURCES THREATENED WITH IRREPARABLE DAMAGE. Russian and Western studies say Russia is the world's most environmentally devastated country and that the situation is likely to deteriorate further due to a lack of funds, AFP reported on 1 May. According to the Russian Environment Ministry, only half the country's arable land is fit for cultivation and half the population drinks water that poses a health risk. A 25 April report in Vechernyaya Moskva listed Moscow, Orel, Smolensk, Orenburg, Nizhny Novgorod, and Tula Oblasts as the regions with the most heavily polluted drinking water. World Health Organization norms for air pollution are often exceeded by ten times in major industrial centers, and Russia has the highest level of contamination from sulfur emissions in Europe. As the spring thaw approaches, vast areas in the Arctic are threatened by oil spilled during recent pipeline leaks. An Ecological Information Center was recently set up in St. Petersburg to monitor the environment in the northwest, Russian Television reported on 2 May. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. ARMS SALES UP. Alexander Kotelkin, the general director of the state- owned Rosvooruzheniye arms export company, told Interfax on 28 April that contracts from foreign buyers for $1.675 billion worth of military equipment had been signed in the first four months of this year. He compared that with sales of $480 million during the same period last year. Kotelkin estimated that total sales for the year would amount to $2.5 billion or $2.6 billion. Russia sold $1.7 billion worth of military equipment in 1994. The official said about 60% of Russian arms exports went to Southeast Asia and the Middle East. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. DECREE ON INVESTORS' INTEREST HARD TO ENFORCE. There is no clear-cut way to implement President Boris Yeltsin's decree on the protection of private investments, a senior member of the Central Bank told the Financial Information Agency on 27 April. The source said the bank "cannot be held responsible for various pyramid schemes that raised money at the cost of public ignorance and loopholes in the country's legislation." He said any fulfillment of the obligations of bankrupt companies, which swindled the public out of 5 trillion rubles with promises of an annual interest rate of 800-1000% in the past two years, is "out of the question." That can be recorded as internal debt, but there is no money to service it at present. Even selling all the assets of those companies would not solve the problem, the report continued, because much of the money was converted into hard currency and put in foreign banks. The source also doubted that many financial organizations would be able to obtain licenses within three months to prevent them from being put out of business. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. ROSTELEKOM INTENDS TO SELL SHARES IN WORLD MARKET. Rostelekom, Russia's largest telecommunications company, intends to sell some of its stock abroad, a company official told Interfax on 2 May. Rostelekom securities department chief Igor Kocheshkov said activities are underway to facilitate share sales on the international securities market. Rostelekom's assets are valued at $1 billion. The company's shares are considered by some experts to be among the most profitable and reliable in Russia. Foreign holdings in Rostelekom amount to 17.3% of its stock. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. GORKY AUTO FACTORY TO SELL BONDS IN RUSSIAN MARKET. The Gorky Automobile Plant (GAZ), one of Russia's biggest producers of trucks, has started to sell its bonds in Russia through a system of authorized investment institutions, the Financial Information Agency reported on 2 May. Located in Nizhny Novgorod, the plant had been selling its bonds locally until now. GAZ has arranged for Tveruniversalbank, Status-Bank, Tserikh Investment Bank, and the Russian Brokerage House to market two-year bonds with 10% yields totaling 200 billion rubles. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA IRANIAN, TURKMEN GAS TO TURKEY? Talks between Turkish and Iranian officials on a long-standing plan to supply Iranian natural gas to Turkey opened in Ankara on 2 May, Reuters reported the next day. The plan envisages a Turkmenistan-Iran gas link which would connect to Turkey and Europe. Turkish Energy Minister Veysel Atasoy said his country intends to purchase 10 billion cubic meters of gas from Iran; the first 2 billion in 1998. At the opening of the three-day talks with his counterpart, Gholamreza Aghazadeh, Atasoy noted that Turkey wants to improve economic relations with Iran; international media interpreted that to mean Ankara intends to ignore U.S. calls for a trade embargo against Iran to protest Tehran's alleged support of terrorism and efforts to build a nuclear weapon. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc. CIS RUSSIA UNDECIDED ON BUYING BOMBERS FROM UKRAINE. Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev indicated on 29 April that his ministry has not decided whether to buy the 44 ex-Soviet strategic bombers held by Ukraine. Interfax quoted him as saying it is a very serious question and "experts have been asked to study it again." The two countries have reached a preliminary agreement under which Russia would write off $190 million of Ukraine's fuel debts in return for the 19 Tu-160 "Blackjack" and 25 Tu-95 MC "Bear" bombers and 600 cruise missiles. A spokesman for the Russian Air Force told Interfax that the return of those aircraft would solve Russia's strategic aviation problems for the next 15-20 years. -- 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. 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