|One must learn by doing the thing; though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. - Sophocles|
No. 106, Part I, 1 June 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 YELTSIN RELUCTANT TO ACCEPT JAPANESE AID FOR QUAKE VICTIMS. President Yeltsin rebuffed an offer from Japan to help victims of the earthquake on Sakhalin, remarking on 31 May that "we are able to deal with this ourselves" and that "for years afterward, they wouldn' t let us forget it and would then tell us to hand back the Kuril Islands," AFP reported. Japan was quick to offer supplies and personnel, but Moscow accepted only medicines, food, and water. Aid has also arrived from South Korea, while the Russian Finance Ministry has allocated 70 billion rubles ($14 million) to the relief operation. Both officials and survivors have blamed shoddy Soviet-era construction for the number of casualties from the quake, which flattened the oil town of Neftegorsk, leaving 659 dead and 295 injured as of 31 May. Scientists have also criticized the government for underfunding seismological stations, noting that 30 have been closed in the Far East, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. RUSSIA LAUNCHES NEW SECURITY DIALOGUE WITH NATO. Russia launched its new consultative dialogue with NATO on 31 May, international agencies reported on 1 June. In addition to agreeing to pursue its own program in NATO' s Partnership for Peace, Russia also agreed to start a new security dialogue with the alliance. NATO sources believe such a dialogue will allow NATO expansion to take place by the end of century. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev said NATO must be "transformed from a military alliance to a political organization" if it is to become part of a pan-European security system. If NATO remains a "purely military bloc," Russia must question "whom NATO is going to defend itself against." Kozyrev stressed the importance of Russia' s new relationship with NATO and said he looked forward to working out the details of the arrangement. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. OBSERVER: MILITARY BESTS FOREIGN MINISTRY IN NATO POLICY. The Russian Defense Ministry' s "principled" stance against NATO expansion has prevailed over the "time-serving" views of the Foreign Ministry, according to a high-ranking defense official quoted by Segodnya. "A set of measures have been approved that should prevent NATO expansion," the official said. Russia' s decision to join the Partnership for Peace (PfP), was conditional on the NATO Council session' s decision not to expand the alliance, Segodnya reported. Kozyrev expressed Russia' s negative views regarding NATO expansion and suggested that "hasty resolution" of the issue "would threaten" the usefulness of Russia' s involvement in the PfP. The article predicted Russia would immediately suspend its PfP participation if new members were accepted. In their communique, NATO foreign ministers repeated their past formulations on the "evolutionary" process of admitting new members, and expressed satisfaction on the progress of the study to determine "how NATO will enlarge." -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. ILYUKHIN ANNOUNCES TWO APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin is preparing two appeals to the Constitutional Court, Radio Rossii reported on 31 May. In his first appeal, Ilyukhin will charge that the Federation Council violates the separation of powers, since half its members represent executive branches of Russia' s 89 regions. In his second appeal, Ilyukhin will ask the court to nullify the results of the 12 December 1993 constitutional referendum, arguing that the voter turnout was less than the 50% required by law. Ilyukhin said he would submit the appeals despite his doubts about the court' s objectivity and independence, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. POLTORANIN DEFENDS LAW ON MASS MEDIA. Duma Press and Information Committee Chairman Mikhail Poltoranin defended the law on the mass media that the Federation Council rejected on 23 May, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 1 June. The law would replace most media subsidies with tax breaks and lower customs duties. Poltoranin said the media' s political and financial independence was at stake and criticized journalists who "won' t lift a finger to protect themselves." He added that his committee received very few suggestions on the draft law, despite sending copies to the Union of Journalists and editors of more than 200 local newspapers. Poltoranin said the law would fight "shameless monopolism" and create real competition in vital areas such as the production of newsprint and publishing equipment. -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. REUTERS ACCUSED OF CONTROLLING NEWS MARKET. The Reuters news agency is using its financial might to take control of the Russian news market, according to an article in the 25-31 May edition of Obshchaya gazeta. The author said Reuters is not a "fair fighter" and accused the agency of offering higher salaries to the best Russian engineers, photographers, and reporters. He also charged that the Reuters Moscow bureau, which is oriented primarily towards financial and economic news, has established "exclusive" relations with Russia' s 50 most powerful banks. The author noted that AFP is also expanding its presence in Russia. He warned that if laws are not written to protect the media, all the news in Russia might soon be controlled by "foreign information empires." -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc. POLEVANOV CONCENTRATES ON NEW POLITICAL MOVEMENT. Vladimir Polevanov, fired on 29 May from his post as deputy head of the president' s oversight department, said his New Russia bloc, which claims 5,000 members in 50 regions, will work in opposition to the government. According to Moskovsky komsomolets on 31 May, he had turned his office into a headquarters for the bloc and assigned his assistant to work for it. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Presidential Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov did not want to have an opposition bloc operating from within the president' s administration and fired him. Polevanov was deputy prime minister from November 1994 to January 1995, but lost that position because of disagreements with Anatoly Chubais over privatization. Moskovsky komsomolets reported that he had close ties with presidential guard head Alexander Korzhakov and First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, but Russian TV claimed he did not know them. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. DUMA AMENDS YELTSIN' S PLANS FOR AUTOMATED VOTING SYSTEM. During late evening hearings on 30 May, State Duma members questioned whether the president' s proposed electronic vote counting system had a proper legal basis and whether it would keep information about voters confidential, Interfax reported. The Duma also questioned the recommendation to buy foreign equipment when domestic products are available. The plan envisions the use of 5,000 computers and a 160 billion ruble ($32 million) budget to streamline the vote counting process as a way of reducing the amount of money spent on each election campaign. Pravda Rossii reported on 1 June that most of its readers believe the system will be used to manipulate the election results. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN "ALARMED" BY STATUS OF RUSSIAN SPEAKERS. President Boris Yeltsin is "very alarmed" by the status of Russian speakers in the "near abroad," his aide for international affairs, Dmitry Ryurikov told Interfax on 31 May. Ryurikov said Yeltsin continues to make appeals protesting discrimination against the Russian-speaking population of other CIS countries to bolster their confidence and ensure better treatment for them. In this regard, Ryurikov called the OSCE a "very useful channel for influencing states," although it does not "always produce the result we expect." On 30 May, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigory Karasin told Interfax that his ministry has "so far failed to considerably improve the situation with regard to the rights of ethnic Russians in the CIS and the Baltic states." He said the ministry intends to increase the size and number of consular offices in the "near abroad." -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. IRAN, RUSSIA AND OIL. Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Iran wants to coordinate oil and gas policies with Russia, Reuters reported on 31 May, citing IRNA. Rafsanjani also reiterated that Russian President Boris Yeltsin has been invited to Tehran for wide-ranging talks on political, military, and economic issues. The same day, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati told the daily Iran that Moscow is willing to broaden its "close" ties with Tehran and the recent talks between Yeltsin and U.S. President Bill Clinton "proved" it. Relations between Tehran and Moscow have been increasingly warm of late; Russia agreed, despite concerted U.S. opposition, to build a nuclear power plant in Iran and to honor a multi-billion-dollar deal to exchange oil for arms. Iran also supports Russia' s position on the need to negotiate the status of the Caspian Sea and its resources. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc. MONEY CRUNCH HURTING MILITARY. Due to "inappropriate and untimely financing" in the first quarter of this year, the Russian armed forces have not received 720,000 metric tons of fuel and as a result "combat training of land and naval forces has practically stopped," Interfax reported on 31 May. The report warned that fuel supplies to federal forces in Chechnya could be disrupted. In the Far East, several hundred military shipyard workers picketed the headquarters of the Pacific Fleet demanding their unpaid wages. They were told by Admiral Igor Khmelnov, the fleet commander, that he did not have the money to pay the fleet' s bills to their enterprises. The fleet press service told Interfax that the fleet did not even have the money to send several units of discharged sailors back to their homes. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. PARAMONOVA INSISTS ON TIGHTER MONETARY POLICY. As inflation falls, the Central Bank of Russia (CBR) will gradually cut its refinancing rate currently running at 195%, acting CBR Chairwoman Tatyana Paramonova said in a speech to the international forum on the Russian economy on 31 May, Interfax reported. Due to the bank' s tighter monetary policy, money supply ran at only 3% in the first quarter of 1995, compared to 10% in 1995, an indication that the inflation rate will continue to fall, Paramonova said. Consumer prices are now rising at a monthly level of 12%, compared with 14% a year ago. The banker said a further drop in the inflation rate is a condition for future economic growth and a flow of foreign investment into the economy. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA LATEST TAJIK TALKS END ON POSITIVE NOTE. As the latest round of negotiations wrapped up, the Tajik government and opposition agreed on an exchange of prisoners of war and the repatriation of Tajik refugees in Afghanistan, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The Red Cross is expected to oversee the repatriation. Nothing was resolved on the issue of power sharing in the Central Asian republic, but the two sides agreed to hold another round of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, according to Interfax. Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev was credited with prodding the two sides toward some agreement. He called for a stop to the bloodshed on the border. Recently, the Kyrgyz and Uzbek presidents have also applied pressure on the two sides to come to an agreement. Kazakh peacekeeping troops representing the CIS have suffered more casualties than any other country this year, excluding Tajik soldiers. At least 17 Kazakh peacekeepers were killed in April. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc. KAZAKHSTAN NUCLEAR-FREE. The last nuclear device in Kazakhstan has been eliminated. On 31 May, an unstable plutonium charge was destroyed using conventional explosives at the Semipalatinsk test site, Reuters reported. Boris Lebedev, in charge of the operation, said there were no changes in radiation levels above ground. The charge had the equivalent of 300 tons of TNT and the detonation took place 425 ft. below ground. President Nursultan Nazarbaev has said it would be the last explosion of its kind in Kazakhstan. -- Bruce Pannier, 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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