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No. 225, Part I, 17 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA AND LONDON CLUB AGREE TO DEBT RESCHEDULING. Meeting in Frankfurt, Russia and the London Club of 600 creditor banks have concluded a framework agreement on the rescheduling of loans and interest totaling $32.5 billion, Russian and Western agencies reported on 16 November. Russia will be granted a seven-year grace period, during which it will only pay interest. The agreement does not formally forgive any of Russia's debt, as did a similar agreement with Poland, but it spreads out the repayments over 25 years. Over the past four years the banks have avoided the embarrassment of Russia going into default by rolling the loans forward every 90 days. On 15 November ITAR-TASS reported that the Paris Club of official creditors had also agreed to reschedule the $40 billion it is owed by Russia, although they failed to agree on a timetable. -- Scott Parrish ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA ZYUGANOV WARNS AGAINST CANCELING, POSTPONING ELECTIONS. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov warned on 15 November that there will be "painful upheavals" if the citizens are denied the chance to vote on 17 December. He is against amending the current election law now, arguing that it is a task for the next Duma, Segodnya reported on 16 November. Zyuganov's party benefits from the current law because it will almost certainly cross the 5% barrier and will gain an even greater proportion of the seats if numerous small parties are excluded from the parliament because they won less than 5%. -- Robert Orttung CONSTITUTIONAL COURT WILL NOT DECIDE ELECTORAL LAW UNTIL NEXT WEEK. The Constitutional Court will not decide whether it will rule on the constitutionality of the electoral law until next week, ITAR-TASS reported 16 November. The Court must meet in full session to decide whether it will hear a case. The Supreme Court and a group of Duma members have asked the court to rule on the constitutionality of the 5% barrier that parties must reach in order to gain representation in the Duma. -- Robert Orttung CHERNOMYRDIN OFFERS SUPPORT TO MEDIA LEADERS. In a meeting with media leaders, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that President Boris Yeltsin could sign the law on financial support to the media -- approved by the Federation Council 15 November -- as early as December and it will come into effect 1 January. The law will exempt all forms of media from a variety of taxes and customs duties, and reduce the costs of their buildings, equipment, and paper. NTV reported that it is not clear how the law will be put into effect, since it will cost 1.5-2 trillion rubles ($330 million to $440 million). -- Robert Orttung CLINTON BACKS CHERNOMYRDIN. According to an article in Komsomolskya pravda on 15 November, Russian observers have concluded that U.S. President Bill Clinton now supports Viktor Chernomyrdin as the best possible successor to President Yeltsin, should his health prevent him from running for a second term in 1996. The paper said supportive remarks Clinton made to Chernomyrdin at their recent meeting on the sidelines of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's funeral had left a strong impression on members of the Yeltsin administration, because they suggested that Clinton favors Chernomyrdin and that the U.S. president has started to "give up on" Yeltsin. The paper suggested that American support could significantly bolster Chernomyrdin in any struggle to succeed Yeltsin. -- Scott Parrish FEDERATION COUNCIL OVERTURNS VETO ON SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM. The Parliament's upper house voted on 15 November to override President Yeltsin's veto of the draft law on the Subsistence Minimum, Interfax reported. The veto had been overturned by the Duma on 12 August, and the law must now be signed by the president within seven days. The draft legislation envisages a new social security benefit to be paid to families whose income is below the official subsistence minimum. According to the Federation Council's Social Policy Committee, the law would provide the basis for other legislation that would set specific subsistence levels and determine how the allowances would be funded. -- Penny Morvant PLANS TO IMPROVE LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCING. On 16 November the government devoted its weekly meeting to a discussion of a draft law to strengthen the powers of local governments. Russian cities currently operate in something of a legal vacuum with respect to budgetary powers. For example, the same day the city of Togliatti, home to the giant auto plant Volzhskii AZ, announced it would seek designation as a "federal city" -- a status currently held only by St. Petersburg and Moscow. Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 16 November that Togliatti wants to leave the jurisdiction of Samara Oblast and deal directly with the federal authorities. City officials complain that they were only able to retain 40% of the 1.5 trillion rubles ($330 million) in local taxes they collected this year. -- Peter Rutland YAKUTIYA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON EXTENDING PRESIDENT'S TERM. The Federal Assembly of the Sakha Republic (Yakutiya) has decided to hold a referendum on the extension of President Mikhail Nikolaev's term of office until 2001, Radio Rossii reported on 16 November. Backers of the referendum collected 204,000 signatures in its support. Communist deputies of the Federal Assembly objected to the decision, saying that Nikolaev's attempts to prolong his term violates several articles of the republican constitution. -- Anna Paretskaya VOLOGDA CORRUPTION SCANDAL. President Yeltsin has asked Procurator- General Yurii Skuratov to look into a corruption scandal in Vologda which was exposed in an Izvestiya article on 15 November, Radio Mayak reported the next day. Senior officials of the farming region were reportedly involved in the diversion of 26 billion rubles ($5.8 million) of federal funds and the harassment of journalists who tried to uncover the story. -- Peter Rutland NEGOTIATIONS CONTINUE AS CFE TREATY DEADLINE PASSES. Diplomats from the 30 signatories of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty met through the night in Vienna to try and reach a last-minute compromise on the controversial flank limits that Russia refuses to meet, Russian and Western agencies reported on 16 November. Treaty limits were scheduled to go into effect on 17 November, and Reuters reported that negotiators "seem to be inching forwards, but it could be hours yet." On the same day, a Russian delegation arrived in Ankara to discuss the issue with Turkish officials. Turkey has opposed changes to the flank limits, and has threatened to retaliate if Russia fails to honor them. ITAR-TASS quoted anonymous Russian military officials as saying that despite the dispute over the flank provisions, Russia was in compliance with the treaty's overall weapons limits. -- Doug Clarke and Scott Parrish PERRY: RUSSIANS IN BOSNIAN FORCE MUST OBEY OR WITHDRAW. Contradicting Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev's claim that Moscow could veto any order given to its troops in a Bosnian peace implementation force that it did not like, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry on 16 November said the Russians must either obey all orders by an American commanding general or withdraw. Western agencies quoted him as saying the Russians could not "pick and choose" which orders to carry out. Perry conceded that any national military force could disregard an order if they felt it was contrary to their national interest, but their only other option would be to withdraw from Bosnia. -- Doug Clarke DUDAEV SPOKESMEN SLAM ELECTION PLANS. Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's negotiator, Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, blasted plans to hold simultaneous elections for the Duma and a Chechen head of state on 17 December, Ekho Moskvy reported on 16 November. Yarikhanov said the announcement of the elections effectively scuttled the already stalled political talks between his delegation and federal authorities. Dudaev spokesman Movladi Udugov later suggested to Interfax that separatist fighters would seek to disrupt the elections if they were held before Russian troops leave Chechnya. Citing Udugov, Interfax also reported that 2 civilians had been killed and 12 wounded when federal forces shelled villages in the Vedeno region, although Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, commander of federal forces in Chechnya, categorically refuted reports of such shelling as "provocations," according to ITAR-TASS. -- Scott Parrish DEBATE OVER RUSSIAN LOSSES IN CHECHNYA. As the first year of the Chechen war draws to a close, Russian media are calling upon security officials to give a more open accounting of the scale of the conflict. The official casualty list for Russian forces stands at 2,000 federal troops killed, 600 missing and 6,000 wounded, NTV reported on 16 November. The monthly death toll peaked at 693 in January and fell to 142 in April, since then losses have averaged about 2-3 deaths per day. NTV suggested that the real losses may be much higher. Estimates of civilian casualties are even less reliable. Radio Rossii reported on 16 November that separatist forces still have an estimated 6,000 fighters at their disposal (including about 300 mercenaries), of whom some 2,000 are opposed to peace on any terms. An upsurge in attacks is expected as the December elections draw near. -- Peter Rutland GRACHEV: RUSSIA CANNOT AFFORD A PROFESSIONAL ARMY. Contract soldiers have proven to be too expensive for Russia, according to Defense Minster Pavel Grachev, and the military has decided to cut their numbers from the more than 350,000 presently in service to a little over 100,000, Radio Mayak reported on 15 November. "If Russia were to have a professional army," he said, "the entire country would be working for the army alone just to feed the army." He said the contract system had failed because the contract soldiers were, as a rule, family men and needed to be paid much higher than the minimum wage. "If we were rich," he said, "it would be a different matter. It would, of course, be wonderful to have professional personnel." -- Doug Clarke BILL BANNING MILITARY POWER CUT-OFFS SENT TO YELTSIN. A law providing for up to 3 year's imprisonment for cutting off the power to military facilities has been sent to President Yeltsin for signature, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 November. The law would put some teeth into a 5 November government resolution banning such blackouts. The military over the past year has been plagued by a series of embarrassing incidents when local authorities cut off the utilities to military bases because the military had not paid its bills. -- Doug Clarke MANY BORDER GUARDS UNFIT TO CARRY GUNS. Two days after a border guard in eastern Siberia killed five of his colleagues on a shooting spree, a report was released concluding that 60% of Russia's border guards are so unstable they shouldn't be carrying guns. According to ITAR-TASS, the report was based on tests conducted by doctors, psychologists, and lawyers following a series of similar rampages by border guards over the past two years. -- Penny Morvant PATRIARCH VISITS GERMANY. The Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, Aleksii II, arrived in Germany on 16 November, Radio Rossii reported. During his first visit to Germany, at the invitation of the German Catholic and Lutheran churches, Aleksii II will meet with German clergymen, Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, and other politicians. Aleksii II told his German counterparts that he opposes transforming international Christian organizations into a copy of the UN. Meanwhile, Pope John Paul II announced that he would like to meet with Aleksii II in Moscow soon, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Constantine Dmitriev TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA KAZAKHSTAN COURT CONVICTS COSSACK CHIEF. The chief of the Semirechie Cossacks in Kazakhstan, Nikolai Gunkin, was convicted on 17 November on charges of holding illegal demonstrations, Reuters reported the same day. Gunkin told the court that he organized a religious meeting on 8 January to mark the Orthodox Christmas day, but denied holding any "illegal demonstrations." Gunkin, who faces up to a year in jail, plans to appeal to international human rights organizations. Reuters reported Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev as saying that investigations by foreign journalists into the case may be prohibited under a constitutional clause that bans activities which may destabilize the country. A report issued by the Kazakhstani-American Civil Rights Bureau noted that since mid 1994 the Kazakhstani authorities have frequently denied permission to hold meetings "without giving any reasons," and arrested the violators by calling them "criminals," Kaztag reported on 16 November. -- Bhavna Dave RELIGIOUS CONCERNS IN SOUTHERN KYRGYZSTAN. The activities of various religious organizations in southern Kyrgyzstan continue to be a source of concern for the Kyrgyz government. Authorities in Bishkek have been attempting to keep close watch on "propagators of Islamic Fundamentalism" in the Osh area. A 13 November report from the Kabar news agency cited by the BBC claims fundamentalist schools are being opened and imams are calling for a break with Kyrgyz authorities, saying also that they promote negative attitudes "towards all those who speak Russian." The same source also claimed that western missionaries are abusing humanitarian aid to spread their message, saying that when political parties cannot fill the needs of the people, religious organizations are quick to appear. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Pete Baumgartner 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. The OMRI Daily Digest is distributed electronically via the OMRI-L list. 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