|У людских достоинств, как и плодов, есть своя пора. - Ф. Ларошфуко|
No. 27, Part I, 07 February 1996
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/Index.html ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^TODAY'S TOP STORY^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ DUDAEV THREATENS WESTERN EUROPE. Speaking at a press conference in the Chechen village of Roshni-Chu during the night of 56 February, President Dzhokhar Dudaev asserted that he no longers plans to wage war against Russia, but intends to attack Western Europe, which he accused of provoking the war, Radio Rossii reported. Dudaev further accused the OSCE mission in Chechnya of inciting hostilities and claimed that the U.S. government had given Moscow $6.5 billion to help finance the war--a claim that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow swiftly denied. In Grozny, thousands of Dudaev supporters demonstrated for the third consecutive day to demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. NTV reported on 6 February that Dudaev's chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov, has issued orders to his field commanders not to hold any further talks with the pro-Moscow government of Doku Zavgaev. -- Liz Fuller ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA COMMUNISTS PROMISE NEW CONSTITUTION IF THEY WIN PRESIDENCY. A new constitution is atop the agenda if a communist candidate wins the presidential elections, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev told Rossiiskaya gazeta on 6 February. Seleznev suggested that the proposed new constitution would eliminate the presidency and restore the supremacy of parliament. -- Penny Morvant CHERNOMYRDIN BREAKS VACATION. A government spokesman said on 6 February that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, on vacation in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, would return to Moscow on 7 February for two days of meetings, Russian media reported. Chernomyrdin will attend a meeting of the Security Council and meet a Danish government delegation. Chernomyrdin's departure on vacation at the weekend prompted speculation in the press that he was about to be sacked, but he has denied the rumors. -- Penny Morvant CONSTITUTIONAL COURT STARTS HEARINGS ON DEPUTIES' IMMUNITY. The Constitutional Court began hearings 6 February on President Boris Yeltsin's request to test the law on Duma deputies' immunity status, Russian media reported. The constitution says members of the parliament cannot be arrested, or subjected to investigation except when detained at the scene of a crime; they also cannot be subjected to body searches. Yeltsin objected to the widening of the immunity limits, which, according to the law, covers a deputy's housing, luggage, transport, correspondence and documents, and excuses a deputy from testifying in court. The Duma representative to the court, Sergei Baburin, defended the existing norms of parliamentary immunity as necessary to preserve "the deputy's freedom of political action," and protection from possible political manipulation of the legal system. The court is expected to announce its verdict this month. -- Anna Paretskaya FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS LAW ON SUBSISTENCE MINIMUM. The Federation Council rejected the draft law on the subsistence minimum on 6 February, Russian media reported. Under the law, which Yeltsin has rejected on two occasions, benefits would be paid to people whose income is below the subsistence minimum. Last year, an average of 37 million Russians lived below the poverty line, which was set in December at 327,000 rubles ($69) a month. The upper house acknowledged that the law is essential but was concerned that it would require 30 to 60 trillion rubles not provided for in the 1996 budget. St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak said that if the law was passed in its current form it would share the fate of the law on veterans, which has never been implemented because of financial constraints. -- Penny Morvant LAWS STALL IN FEDERATION COUNCIL. At its meeting on 7 February the Federation Council also failed to overcome President Boris Yeltsin's veto on four other laws which had previously passed both parliamentary chambers. The laws pertained to financial support for the northern regions, the regulation of public meetings, the governmental structure of regional subjects, and the securities market. The law regulating the securities market, which is urgently needed, has been en route through the legislature since 1994. -- Peter Rutland REMAINING PRESIDENTIAL COUNCIL MEMBERS ENDORSE YELTSIN. Several members of the advisory Presidential Council, including Andranik Migranyan, Sergei Karaganov, and Emil Pain, expressed their continued support for President Boris Yeltsin in an open letter published in Izvestiya on 7 February. The letter was written in response to the recent resignations of several members of the council, including human rights advocate Sergei Kovalev and Izvestiya commentator Otto Latsis. The authors argued that Yeltsin remains the "main bulwark of democracy in Russia." They contended that in the face of "a rising threat of Bolshevik restoration," supporting Yeltsin was the "only reasonable course of political action." The authors did, however, express strong disagreement with Yeltsin's Chechnya policy, and urged the president to take immediate steps to reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict there. -- Scott Parrish FOREIGN MINISTRY SLAMS AMBASSADOR TO VATICAN. Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin harshly criticized the Ambassador to the Vatican, Vyacheslav Kostikov, on 6 February for his comments in a 4 February interview with NTV, Russian and Western agencies reported. Kostikov, who served as President Yeltsin's press secretary until December 1994, gave the interview in connection with the upcoming release of his memoirs, excerpts from which have already been published in Argumenty i fakty. In the interview, Kostikov painted a negative portrait of Yeltsin as power- hungry and lacking a "democratic ideology of his own," adding that Yeltsin's inner circle of advisors conducted a "constant, exhausting struggle" for influence over the president. Karasin said that Kostikov's comments were "a violation of moral and professional rules and norms" since it is "unacceptable for an ambassador to make negative comments about the leadership of his own country." -- Scott Parrish ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVIST ARRESTED FOR SPYING. Aleksandr Nikitin, a Russian employee of the Norwegian-based environmental group Bellona, was arrested by the Federal Security Service in St. Petersburg on charges of espionage, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. In a press release from Oslo, Bellona described the arrest of Nikitin, a nuclear expert who used to serve in the Northern Fleet, as a "serious blow against democracy and environmental efforts in Russia," according to Western agency reports. Bellona, which was founded in 1986, specializes in charting radioactive contamination of the Kola peninsula. The organization has been subject of a criminal investigation since the release of a report in October on the appalling state of a nuclear waste dump used by the Northern Fleet that the Russian authorities claim revealed state secrets. -- Penny Morvant IRAN BEGINS PAYING FOR BUSHEHR REACTOR. Grigorii Kaurov, a spokesman for the Russian Ministry of Nuclear Energy, told journalists on 7 February that Iran had begun making payments for the completion of the controversial Bushehr nuclear power station, Russian and Western agencies reported. Kaurov said that under the terms of the estimated $800 million Russo-Iranian contract that went into effect on 12 January, the first VVER-1000 reactor bloc on the site will be completed by 2000. Russian technicians continue to prepare the site for full-scale construction, which Kaurov predicted would begin no sooner than May. The possible construction of three other reactors at the site has been discussed with Iran, he said, but has not yet been finalized. Kaurov also noted that Iranian specialists for the plant will be trained at Novovoronezh power station. -- Scott Parrish BALTIN GLAD TO BE RELIEVED OF COMMAND. Admiral Eduard Baltin, the former commander of the Black Sea Fleet, told Russian media on 5 February that he was "deeply grateful to the Russian president for relieving me of the burden that rested on my shoulders." Baltin said that the could not hand over part of the fleet to Ukraine, as he had been ordered to, because it represented "not only history but also a part of Russia." He said that he therefore had been dismissed because of "pangs of conscience." Baltin turned over command of the fleet to his deputy, Vice Admiral Gennadii Suchkov, on 5 February. -- Doug Clarke RUSSIA AND CHINA COMPLETE SU-27 DEAL. Russia and China have concluded a secret agreement which allows completion of the delayed sale of 72 SU-27 fighters to China, The New York Times reported on 7 February. One-third of the planes had been delivered under a 1992 deal, but further deliveries stalled because of Russian complaints about the barter goods China was using to cover two-thirds of the estimated $1 billion purchase price. The new agreement settled the payment terms, clearing the way not only for delivery of the remaining planes, but also for a contract allowing China to produce the SU-27 under license, (see OMRI Daily Digest 5 February 1996). -- Scott Parrish CONTROVERSY OVER NORILSK NICKEL INTENSIFIES. The Duma set up a commission on 2 February to investigate the privatization of Norilsk Nickel, and on 5 February Procurator General Yurii Skuratov announced that he was opening an investigation, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In November Oneksimbank won control of the state's 38% stake in the firm in return for a $170 million loan, in an auction which the bank itself organized. Norilsk Director Anatolii Filatov has refused to allow the bank to appoint any new directors, and successfully went to court to block a bank request to call an emergency shareholders' meeting on 2 February. Norilsk Nickel has annual sales of $1.2 billion, and produces 90% of Russia's nickel and cobalt, 75% of its copper, and all its platinum. Due to chronic wage arrears the firm's trade unions are supporting Oneksimbank in its effort to take over the firm. Krasnoyarsk Krai governor Valerii Zubov, who sits on the Norilsk board of directors, is taking a neutral position in the dispute, according to Russian Television on 23 January. -- Peter Rutland POSSIBLE REVISIONS TO SHARES-FOR-LOANS SCHEME. In the wake of criticism of the results of the 1995 loans-for-shares auctions, the government is considering repaying the loans and repossessing some of the shares, Russian media reported on 3 February, although it is not clear where the money for such an operation would come from. If the loans-for-shares auctions are restarted, the rules will probably be altered. Likely changes include barring the State Property Committee's agent banks from participating, and allowing bidders to pay part of the required deposit with treasury bills. -- Natalia Gurushina DEFENSE CONVERSION HOPES IN SVERDLOVSK . . . Overall production at defense plants in Russia has fallen by 44% over the past two years, radio Ekho Moskvy reported on 6 February. Conversion programs have been hindered by a shortage of investment for retooling. However, the special agreement signed by Sverdlovsk Oblast with the federal government (see OMRI Daily Digest 12 January 1996) allows the oblast to divert federal tax revenues directly into conversion projects at local defense plants. Thus the Mias rocket design center in Sverdlovsk Oblast is building a line for the production of city trams, formerly imported from Czechoslovakia, Russian Television reported on 6 February. -- Peter Rutland . . . BUT ST. PETERSBURG ROCKET PLANT IN TROUBLE. Like many defense plants, St. Petersburg's Severnyi Zavod is on the brink of financial collapse, NTV reported on 5 February. The plant produces Patriot-style surface to air missiles, but has been reduced to making toboggans and other consumer goods. The last purchase order from the Russian government was for 62 rockets, in 1994. They managed to sell 120 S300 missiles to China last year, but had to accept payment in barter goods (such as lighters, thermoses, and china dogs) which they gave out as wages. Two local banks that accepted Severnyi promissory notes, Kredit Petersburg and Metal Invest, have gone bankrupt. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA NIYAZOV VISITS TURKEY. The Turkish papers Cumhuriyet and Zaman reported on 6 February that Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov is in Turkey for discussion of the gas pipeline project running through Iran and Turkey to Europe. Confusingly, some international agencies were still reporting that Niyazov will not visit Turkey until next week. Rumors are circulating in Ashgabat that Niyazov's health is poor and that he may be going to Turkey for medical treatment. -- Lowell Bezanis UN GROUP ARRIVES IN UZBEKISTAN. A delegation to evaluate Uzbekistan's human rights record arrived in Tashkent on 5 February, Uzbek television reported, as noted by the BBC. Under the auspices of the UN Development Program, the group will meet with various government officials, NGO's, and political party leaders. They are also scheduled to meet with several opposition figures whose parties are currently not registered with the government. -- Roger Kangas FBI TO TRAIN KAZAKHSTANI OFFICIALS TO FIGHT CRIME. Following a meeting between Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev and FBI Director Louis Freeh at the World Economic Forum in Davos, the FBI promised to help Kazakhstan train its law enforcement agents to fight crime, Western media reported on 6 February. This meeting was a follow-up to an agreement reached between the two countries in March to cooperate to combat nuclear weapons smuggling, drug trafficking, and other organized and financial crimes. -- Bhavna Dave [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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