|Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid. - Dostoevsky|
No. 222, Part I, 14 November 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. Part II, distributed simultaneously as a second document, covers Central, Eastern, 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 ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^TODAY'S TOP STORY^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ YELTSIN: ELECTIONS ON SCHEDULE BUT UNDER DIFFERENT RULES. President Boris Yeltsin said he wants the Duma elections to take place on schedule but is also seeking to ensure that there can be no doubt about their legitimacy. In a conversation with his aide, Georgii Satarov, he made clear that he is concerned about problems with the electoral law and wants the Duma to approve corrections to it before the 17 December elections, NTV reported on 14 November. The Supreme Court and a group of Duma deputies have asked the Constitutional Court to rule on the 5% barrier for parties to enter the Duma. Making any changes to the law a few weeks before the elections will be extremely difficult since there are numerous parties with different interests involved. Rossiiskie vesti reported on 14 November that various deputy groups have come up with at least three different amendments to the law. Yeltsin has also requested that the Federation Council officially announce the date of the presidential election as 16 June 1996 to put an end to speculation that it will be postponed. -- Robert Orttung ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA YELTSIN REORGANIZES PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION. Although he is still in hospital, President Yeltsin is moving to tighten his control over the often fractious process of policy-making in the Russian executive. Sergei Filatov, the presidential chief of staff, told ITAR-TASS on 13 November that Yeltsin had instructed him to restructure the presidential administration to create new directorates for foreign policy, civil service, and domestic policy. Each of the new directorates will be headed by one of the president's advisers, such as foreign policy aide Dmitrii Ryurikov. Also on 13 November, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev chaired an interdepartmental meeting on foreign policy, which included Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov, and other senior ministers. The meeting was aimed at coordinating the foreign activities of the Russian government, which has been criticized for disorganization in that area. -- Scott Parrish CONSTITUTIONAL COURT EXPANDS VICTIMS' RIGHTS. The Constitutional Court ruled that victims of crimes or abuse of power can appeal in court against a decision to close a criminal case following preliminary investigation, Russian media reported on 13 November. The court struck down a statute under which dissatisfied crime victims could only lodge a complaint with regional or national procurators, on the grounds that such a limit violates the constitutionally guaranteed right of all citizens to defense in court. Russian TV predicted that the court's decision will force investigators to be more conscientious, only closing cases for lack of evidence when there is real justification to do so. -- Laura Belin DUMA CALLS FOR INTEGRATION TALKS WITH BELARUS. At its 13 November session, the Duma passed a resolution calling for the integration of Russia and Belarus, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 14 November. The resolution called for President Yeltsin to dispatch a delegation to Minsk for talks on the issue, and recommended that a referendum be held in Russia on relations with Belarus. Meanwhile, on 11 November Sovetskaya Rossiya reported the results of a poll showing that 30% of Russians would vote for Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka if he could participate in Russian elections. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev would receive 10% support, while other CIS leaders would receive little support. In comparison, the paper noted, recent polls put support for Aleksandr Lebed at only 23%, while all other Russian politicians garner less than 10% support. -- Scott Parrish MOSCOW HAILS EAST SLAVONIA ACCORD. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, the chief Russian negotiator in the former Yugoslavia, hailed the recently signed basic agreement on East Slavonia, Interfax reported on 13 November. Ivanov said the accord offers a "real chance" to avert a repeat of the refugee crisis caused when Croatia retook control of Krajina by force in August and demonstrates the "realism" of Zagreb and the local Serbian authorities. On the same day, however, Communist Deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, chairman of the Duma Security Committee, slammed President Yeltsin's recent veto of a bill proposing that Russia unilaterally exit from UN sanctions against rump Yugoslavia and accused Croatia of carrying out a policy of "undeclared war" against the Serbian people. -- Scott Parrish SIBERIAN COAL COMPANY HOLDS TRAINS HOSTAGE. A Siberian coal company, Altaikoks, has held two trains and their crews hostage for four days to protest the railway's decision to cut it off from transport service, Russian and Western agencies reported on 13 November. More than 60 trains are backed up near the Altaikoks coal company in Zarinsk, due to the blockage. The railway said the coal company owes 13.6 billion rubles ($2.7 million) in transport costs, and refused further service until the debt was paid. The local trade union at the train depot in Barnaul said the situation at the Zarinsk-Kuzbass section of the railroad is disastrous. -- Thomas Sigel ANTI-CRIME OFFICIALS MEET IN MOSCOW. Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov met with the U.S. assistant secretary of state for international narcotics and law enforcement, Robert Gelbard, in Moscow on 13 November to discuss ways to crack down on the spread of drug-related and economic crimes, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported the same day. Both Kulikov and Gelbard said that cooperation between the two countries must be stepped up to tackle the increasingly international reach of criminal organizations. Since 1994, police have reported 70,000 crimes connected to drugs in Russia. In September, U.S. police arrested 21 people of Russian, Armenian, and Egyptian origin accused of tax evasion, organizing prostitution, and distributing narcotics in the Los Angeles area. U.S. District Attorney Nora Manella said there are two groups with possible links to Russian organized crime groups on the U.S. East Coast involved in various illegal activities, including extortion and contract killings. -- Thomas Sigel DEBATE OVER RUBLE EXCHANGE RATE. While the government is celebrating the stability of the ruble's nominal exchange rate, commentators note that continuing domestic price inflation (4.7% in October) has led to a 50% real appreciation of the ruble since May (i.e., an increase of its purchasing power in dollar terms). Some industrialists complain that this is undermining the profitability of exports. However, Aleksei Varnavskii, writing in Finansovye izvestiya on 14 November, notes that exports are running at a level one third higher than in 1994. He argues that the ruble is still below its true value, and despite domestic inflation, the ruble will likely hold to its nominal value against foreign currencies and even fall to 4,300 to $1. -- Peter Rutland BANKRUPTCIES LOOM IN ST. PETERSBURG. St. Petersburg firms owe the federal budget 1.1 trillion rubles ($240 million) and local officials are preparing to declare the city's first bankruptcies, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 November. The paper also reported that Moscow-based Menatep Bank is launching a court case to get control of Petersburgskii Tekstil, which has not repaid the 920 million ruble ($200,000) loan the bank gave it in 1993. Meanwhile, the textile firm continues to receive new loans from local banks, such as a recent 1 billion ruble loan from Astrobanka. St. Petersburg is not atypical. According to the Central Bank's deputy head of research, 16% of all commercial bank loans are overdue, Delovaya Sibir reported in issue no. 33. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA OPPOSITION CRITICIZES ELECTION VIOLATIONS IN AZERBAIJAN. In separate interviews with the European Institute for the Media on 13 November, Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar and Azerbaijani Popular Front Deputy Chairman Asim Mollazade both characterized the 12 November parliamentary elections as "a significant step backwards towards authoritarianism." NTV reported that the opposition Popular Front estimated that only 15- 30% of voters participated in the elections. Officials and unsuccessful candidates from both parties cited numerous examples of blatant violations of electoral procedures by representatives of executive power in rural areas. In some cases, physical violence was used against opposition candidates or observers. The Popular Front leadership expressed bewilderment at such "illogical" tactics by the Azerbaijani leadership, given that restrictions on the number of opposition candidates registered would in any event have guaranteed the pro- presidential Yeni Azerbaycan party 60% of the seats in the new parliament. -- Liz Fuller ELECTION-RELATED DEATHS IN AZERBAIJAN. Two individuals identified only as close associates of Kamil Gasanov, chairman of the Cultural Community of Kurds and a parliamentary candidate in the Lachin Kubatli district, were shot in a dispute over a vote cast by a person identified as Shamil Gadialiyev, Turan reported on 13 November. The latter reportedly clashed with the two men over his decision not to support Gasanov. Three other people were wounded. -- Lowell Bezanis RUSSIAN PRESSURE ON ABKHAZIA. In line with a Russian Foreign Ministry decision dated 30 August, Russian border guards will no longer permit Abkhaz passport holders to travel to Turkey, Interfax reported on 13 November. In the past, Turkey was the only country that recognized Abkhaz passports. The Russian decision noted that Abkhaz passports and visas will not be recognized until the ultimate settlement of its conflict with Georgia; an unnamed senior Abkhaz official told the agency that the step is in line with an effort to tighten a blockade on the region in an attempt to pressure its leadership during the Georgian- Abkhaz talks. -- Lowell Bezanis EXPLOSION HALTS ELECTRICITY SUPPLY TO EASTERN GEORGIA. A high voltage power transmission line blew up about 70 km west of Tbilisi and close to the border with South Ossetiya, Russian media reported on 13 November. A source in the Georgian Interior Ministry said anti-tank mines caused the explosion. The damage, which will halt the electricity supply to Tbilisi and eastern Georgia, is estimated at $155,000. According to Georgia's Energy Department, it will take about a week to repair the line. Meanwhile, heavy snowfall will exacerbate the energy crisis in eastern Georgia. -- Irakli Tsereteli UZBEKISTAN RECEIVES EU GRANT. The EU's "TACIS" program gave an $11 million grant to Uzbekistan, Interfax reported on 13 November. The money will help reform measures in the agricultural sector, particularly in the regions of Syrdarya, Samarkand, and Ferghana. The news follows an ITAR-TASS report on 10 November that the EBRD is working out arrangements to give Uzbekistan $50 million to promote foreign investment. The expansion is seen as part of a continued liberalization of Uzbekistan's economy, which has been based on a policy of avoiding shock-therapy strategies to this point. A bank representative noted that the credit would "strengthen ties between Uzbek banks and their foreign partners." -- Roger Kangas CONTROVERSY OVER EXECUTIONS SHOWN ON KAZAKHSTANI TV. The Russian human rights group Glasnost Foundation has criticized the Kazakhstani government for "exploiting the freedom of the press" by broadcasting criminal executions by shooting on state television, Ekspress-Khronika reported on 14 November. The documentaries on criminal executions with commentaries by the Interior Ministry officials shown on the State TV and independent channel Totem on 15 May and 25 September were sanctioned by the Kazakhstani president and general procurator. Kazakhstani Deputy General Procurator Garifulla Utebayev said that the screenings did not violate mass media laws and were aimed at "informing the public." -- Bhavna Dave NAZARBAYEV, JUSTICE MINISTER CRITICIZE RUSSIAN MEDIA OVER GUNKIN. A Kazakhstani Interior Ministry official told ITAR-TASS on 13 November that Semirechie Cossack leader Nikolai Gunkin was arrested for criminal acts which could "exacerbate interethnic relations in Kazakhstan." Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned that he will ask all Kazakhstanis to distrust the Russian mass media unless they begin publishing "objective information" on the country, Interfax reported on 13 November. Later at a press conference in the Kazakhstani embassy in Moscow, Kazakhstani Justice Minister Konstantin Kolpakov denied allegations by the Russian State Duma Committee on Relations with the CIS and Russians Abroad of "widespread terror" against Cossacks and Russians by the Kazakhstani interior forces. -- Bhavna Dave [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet Union and Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. 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