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No. 88, Part I, 5 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 FEDERATION COUNCIL PASSES LAW ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS . . . By a vote of 111 to nine, with eight abstentions, the Federation Council passed the revised draft law on presidential elections adopted by the State Duma, Russian and Western agencies reported on 4 May. If President Boris Yeltsin signs the law, the next presidential elections will be scheduled for 16 June 1996, the first Sunday after Yeltsin's current term in office expires. Under the draft law, presidential candidates must collect one million signatures to be registered, and no more than 7% of the total number of signatures may come from any one region of the Russian Federation. Presidential candidates may create and manage their own election funds, which will be held in special temporary accounts in Russia's Sberbank. Individual donations to candidates cannot be more than 50 times the minimum wage, donations from legal entities cannot be more than 5000 times the minimum wage, and the candidate's total expenditures cannot be more than 250,000 times the minimum wage. State enterprises, military, religious, and charitable organizations, foreign citizens, international groups, and Russian legal entities with more than 30% foreign capital are prohibited from contributing to presidential campaigns. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. .. . . BUT REJECTS LAW ON PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. On the same day, the Council rejected the Duma's draft law on parliamentary elections for the second time, Russian agencies reported. The Council insists that to represent Russia's regions fairly, 300 Duma deputies should be elected from single-member constituencies and only 150 from party lists, which are mostly made up of Moscow politicians. However, the Duma draft law maintains the current ratio of 225 deputies chosen by each method. Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin said he is "calm" about the upper house's decision, Interfax reported. Rybkin predicted the Duma would either override the Council's veto by a two-thirds majority or send the law to a parliamentary conciliatory commission to forge a compromise. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. PATRIOTIC PARTIES ESTABLISH ANTI-FASCIST CENTER. Patriotic groups including Sergei Baburin's Russian Public Union, Boris Mironov's Russian Patriotic Party, and Leonid Petukhov's Moscow Officers' Assembly announced the formation of an Anti-Fascist Patriotic Center in Moscow, Interfax reported on 4 May. Although the center's organizers accused current Russian leaders of pursuing policies based on "fascist ideology," Baburin said the center supported the 23 March presidential decree on fighting fascism and would work to implement it. Baburin called fascism "a form of international Russophobia," and the center's first official statement charged that "in the new international world order . . . the Russian people have become a victim of genocide." Anti- fascist centers affiliated with democratic groups, the Communist Party, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party already exist in Moscow, but they do not coordinate their activities. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. ZYUGANOV: OPPOSITION WILL FORM "TEAM" BEFORE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov told Interfax on 4 May that an opposition electoral alliance of state-oriented and patriotic groups would compete in the June 1996 presidential elections. In addition to nominating a presidential candidate, Zyuganov said, the bloc would present a team of potential appointees for the posts of prime minister and cabinet members. According to Zyuganov, prominent politicians including Agrarian Party leader Mikhail Lapshin, Democratic Party of Russia leader Sergei Glazev, Federation Council deputy Petr Romanov, and Russian Public Union leader Sergei Baburin are ready to join the opposition team. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIA SENDS MIXED MESSAGES ON CENTRIFUGES TO IRAN . . . Russia has sent mixed messages as to whether it intends to supply Iran with gas centrifuges capable of producing weapons grade uranium, Interfax reported on 4 May. Russian First Deputy Minister for Atomic Energy Lev Ryabev denied that such technology would be exported but Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin side-stepped the issue. Referring to the light-water reactors that are to be supplied to Iran, Karasin said, "Moscow will not risk any steps which could facilitate the development of technology for the production of nuclear weapons by Tehran." However, he said all other matters, including supplying centrifuges, are "a separate issue." Meanwhile, The Washington Post on 5 May quoted Georgy Kaurov, a spokesman for the Atomic Energy Ministry, as denying that contracts or agreements on this issue have been signed. Some commentators have suggested in the Western media that Russia has never intended to supply centrifuges to Iran and will give them up in a seeming concession to continue with the reactor deal. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. .. . . AND PRESSES AHEAD WITH REACTOR DEAL. Russia continues to resist U.S. pressure to cancel its deal to supply light-water nuclear reactors to Iran, Interfax reported on 4 May. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin belittled a suggestion made by U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright during her visit to Israel that Russia back off on its deal with Iran in exchange for adequate compensation. He said on 4 May that such a notion evoked "bewilderment" in Moscow and is "clearly the fruit of the ambassador's imagination." Meanwhile, The New York Times reported that Iran will return the spent fuel from the reactors to Russia. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said his country "will not ultimately be satisfied by anything other than the end of the nuclear cooperation program." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. FREE TRADE UNIONS PICKET FEDERATION COUNCIL. About 100 representatives of the Independent Union of Miners and the socialist trade union association SOTSPROF picketed the parliament's upper house on 4 May to protest the draft law on trade unions, Interfax reported. Alexander Sergeev, chairman of the miners' union and a member of the presidential council, argued that the bill deals a fatal blow to all trade unions which were established after 1989 and which are not members of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), which he described as belonging to the "school of communism." Sergeev told journalists on 3 May that the draft passed by the Duma "was made" for the FNPR and would revive its monopoly on the "incipient labor market" to the detriment of workers' interests, Segodnya reported on 4 May. Sergeev believes the aim of the bill is to exclude the alternative union movement from the election campaign. He and his colleagues are particularly upset by Article 13, which grants the FNPR priority in collective bargaining and would, they believe, force workers to join it. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES LAW ON CHILD BENEFITS. On 4 May the Federal Assembly's upper house approved a bill on child benefits passed by the Duma on 26 April, Interfax reported. The parents of children under 16 will receive benefits equal to 70% of the monthly minimum wage, set at 43,739 rubles ($8.53) as of 1 May. Upon the birth or adoption of a child, benefits amounting to ten times the minimum wage will also be paid. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. APRIL INFLATION RATE DROPS 0.4 POINTS TO 8.5%. The rate of inflation in Russia dropped to 8.5% in April from 8.9% in March, Economics Minister Yevgeny Yasin announced to Russian and Western news agencies on 4 May. Yasin said the government's tighter monetary policy would lead to the stabilization of financial markets and a lower rate of inflation in future months. "Without stabilization of the ruble there can be no grounds to expect a halt in the rise of prices", he said. The ruble, which has lost more than 40% of its value since the start of the year, remained unchanged in MICEX trading on 4 May closing at 5,130 rubles to $1. Yasin said the ruble rate is expected to strengthen to 5,000 rubles to $1 over the next few months. An IMF program approved by the Russian government last month includes a 50% cut in the budget deficit and a target of cutting inflation at a rate of 1% a month by the end of the year. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. FOREIGN TRADE TURNOVER UP 10.5%. Russia's foreign trade turnover reached $25.7 billion in the first quarter of 1995, an increase of 10.5% over the same period in 1994, ITAR-TASS reported, citing official statistics. Exports totaled $14.4 billion, while imports amounted to $11.3 billion. Trade turnover with Western countries reached $20.3 billion, with exports accounting for $11.5 billion and imports $8.8 billion. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. CHERNOMYRDIN DEMANDS GOVERNMENT MEMBERS OBSERVE BUDGET BILL. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin called on all government members to strictly observe the 1995 budget, Interfax reported on 4 May. Addressing a government session, he expressed his dissatisfaction with tax revenues in the first quarter, which amounted to only 88.6% of the target. He said the future of reforms in Russia depend on how the budgetary provisions are carried out. "We shall have no other sources of financing in 1995 except the ones stated in the budget," he said. In the past, Russia has supplemented its tax revenues with central bank credits, a major source of inflation; but such financing has been banned in 1995 spending plans. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIA AND CUBA CLOSE ON OIL-FOR-SUGAR TRADE AGREEMENT. Russia will supply 3 million metric tons of crude oil to Cuba in exchange for 1 million tons of raw sugar, Western and Russian agencies announced on 4 May. Signed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov and Cuban Foreign Trade Minister Ricardo Cabrisas, the deal should be implemented by the first quarter of 1996 and should help ease Russia's sugar shortage. Oil-sugar barter deals began in Soviet times and in recent years have been viewed by critics as subsidies for the Cuban government. But Davydov said Russia needs the raw sugar to keep its sugar refineries operating at full capacity. About 100,000 people are employed in the sugar processing industry. Davydov told Interfax that Russia needs about 2 million tons of sugar to bridge the gap between supply and demand this year. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA KAZAKH CONSTITUTIONAL CONFERENCE, REFERENDUM IN OFFING. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev indicated he would call a conference in June to decide on changes to the constitution, Interfax reported on 4 May. Among the tasks of the conference will be to draft a new electoral code for parliamentary elections. A referendum on changes to the constitution will be held in August, according to Nazarbayev, after which elections to parliament will go forward. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc. UZBEK VIEWS OF KOZYREV REMARKS . . . Recent remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev regarding Russia's readiness to use force to protect ethnic Russians abroad were criticized as "far from inoffensive" by the Uzbek parliamentary and government newspaper Narodnye Slovo on 4 May, Interfax reported the same day. The paper linked Kozyrev's comments to election campaigning in Russia and sniped at the readiness of "Kozyrev and the like [to] throw billions to the wind [for] senseless local wars," a clear reference to the war in Chechnya. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc. .. . . AND IRAN EMBARGO. Uzbek President Islam Karimov has expressed his support for the U.S. trade embargo against Iran, Reuters reported on 4 May. While the governments of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkmenistan have refused to take a position on the embargo--and Tajikistan has expressed its opposition to the use of "coercive methods"--Karimov was quoted as questioning the feasibility of Russia supplying nuclear reactors to Iran. Following a meeting with the head of the IMF, Karimov said, "We know the reasons for the embargo and we support them." -- Lowell Bezanis, 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. 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