|Words that open our eyes to the world are always the easiest to remember. - Ryszard Kapuscinski|
No. 34, Part I, 16 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ YELTSIN FIRES HEAD OF CHANNEL 2. President Boris Yeltsin sacked Oleg Poptsov as chairman of Russian TV, which broadcasts nationwide on Channel 2, Russian and Western media reported on 15 February. He appointed Eduard Sagalaev, currently head of the TV-6 network, to replace Poptsov. Russian commentators warned that Yeltsin is tightening control over the media as he begins his reelection campaign. Although fully state-owned, Russian TV's news coverage is less consistently pro- presidential than 51% state-owned Russian Public TV (ORT), which broadcasts on Channel 1. Speaking in Yekaterinburg, Yeltsin said ORT presents the news "normally," while Channel 2 "lies." Poptsov, who was chairman of Russian TV since its creation in July 1990, first claimed that he was under pressure to resign because of his network's Chechnya coverage in January 1995. In a 15 February interview with Russian TV, Poptsov said he still supported Yeltsin's reelection bid. -- Laura Belin ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA REACTION TO YELTSIN RE-ELECTION ANNOUNCEMENT. While President Boris Yeltsin portrayed himself in Yekaterinburg as the only alternative to a return of "the red wheel of communism," Yegor Gaidar and Sergei Kovalev insisted Yeltsin's candidacy will only help the Communists, Russian media reported on 15 February. However, Forward, Russia! leader Boris Fedorov said he will back Yeltsin if Russia's democrats cannot agree on a different candidate, according to Ekspress-khronika. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin repeated that he has no presidential aspirations. Former chief of staff Sergei Filatov, now one of the president's top campaign organizers, told NTV he is setting up an nationwide pro-Yeltsin association, which will publish its own newspaper during the campaign. Meanwhile, Yeltsin's wife Naina told RIA-Novosti that she is still concerned about her husband's health, although she described his current condition as "normal." -- Laura Belin YELTSIN PLEDGES ACTION ON WAGE ARREARS. Speaking in Yekaterinburg on 15 February, Yeltsin promised that "from March on, there will be no problem with wage arrears." He castigated directors who pay themselves 30 million rubles ($6,300) a month, "while at the same time the working class do not get their wages for two months." Wage arrears are tied to the problems of tax arrears and inter-enterprise debt, which now stand at approximately 13.4 trillion, 30 trillion and 50 trillion rubles, respectively. The first meeting of the new government commission on payments arrears, chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kadannikov, met on 14 February, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. Kadannikov said he is searching for a "macroeconomic" solution, while his predecessor Anatolii Chubais targeted individual debtor firms. -- Peter Rutland BACKGROUND ON NEW HEAD OF RUSSIAN TV. Eduard Sagalaev's appointment as chairman of Russian TV marks an about-face for a television pioneer who has spent the last few years developing a private network. During the Gorbachev era, Sagalaev helped create the groundbreaking Ostankino programs "Vzglyad" (Viewpoint) and "Dvenadtsatyi etazh" (The Twelfth Floor). He formed a partnership with American media magnate Ted Turner in 1992 and founded the independent Moscow city channel TV-6 the following year. TV-6 reaches about 70 million viewers in European Russia, but does not yet produce its own news programs. In August 1995, Sagalaev was chosen to lead the new National Association of Television Broadcasters, which was founded to advance the independent media and push for the privatization of broadcasting facilities. Sagalaev also heads the Confederation of Journalists' Unions. -- Laura Belin MOST RUSSIANS PREFER LOCAL MEDIA. More than half of Russians watch only local television and read only local or regional newspapers, according to recent poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VCIOM) reported by ITAR-TASS on 15 February. VCIOM director Yurii Levada said the study proves that Russia "cannot be equated with Moscow," since the independence of the regions is increasing. -- Laura Belin FORMER TOP PROCURATOR UNDER INVESTIGATION. Keen to show that he is cracking down on corruption, President Yeltsin said on 15 February that criminal charges have been brought against Aleksei Ilyushenko, acting procurator-general from February 1994 to October 1995, Russian and Western agencies reported. Ilyushenko has been accused of abuse of office and bribe-taking. Criminal proceeding have also been instituted against a former governor of Vologda Oblast and Yevgenii Bychkov, chairman of the Russian Committee on Precious Metals, who is a key figure in talks with South Africa's diamond giant De Beers. Yeltsin said that 1,200 senior officials have been convicted since he signed decrees on combating corruption. -- Penny Morvant DUMA PASSES BILL ON DETENTION OF SUSPECTS. The Duma passed a bill in the first reading on 14 February reducing the period in which suspects can be held in custody without indictment to 10 days, the BBC reported citing Interfax. At present, under a June 1994 presidential decree on measures to combat organized crime, suspects can be held for 30 days before charges are brought. That decree has been severely criticized for contravening the constitution and violating human rights. -- Penny Morvant RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS DISCUSS WAR IN CHECHNYA . . . The Union of Muslims of Russia has proposed that the leaders of all the country's Muslim regions convoke a meeting to discuss the settlement of the conflict in Chechnya, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 15 February. Dudaev representative Aslan Maskhadov is expected to attend the meeting. The union's leaders stressed that the meeting is aimed at persuading President Yeltsin to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, adding that if the war continues, they will call on Russia's 20 million Muslims to vote against Yeltsin in the presidential election. -- Anna Paretskaya . . . TATARSTAN PRESIDENT HAS PLAN TO END THE CONFLICT. Mintimer Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan, has his own ideas on how to end the war in Chechnya, Izvestiya reported on 16 February. Shaimiev proposed all-party negotiations, the establishment of an international monitoring group, and the introduction of an amnesty for all involved, including Dudaev. He also advocated holding new elections in Chechnya, in which Dudaev would be allowed to participate. -- Anna Paretskaya RUSSIAN IFOR COMMANDER DISMISSED. Maj.-Gen. Nikolai Statskov, commander of the Russian contingent in the NATO-led Bosnian peace implementation force (IFOR), has been recalled to Moscow, NTV reported on 15 February. Statskov, deputy commander of Russia's Airborne Forces, was criticized last December for meeting with Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 December 1995). NTV speculated that Statskov was dismissed at the request of NATO Commander General George Joulwan, who recently visited Moscow. The station defended Statskov's decision to meet with Mladic, however, saying it had allowed the Russian peacekeeping brigade to be successfully deployed in Serb-held territory. The commander of the Airborne Forces, Col.-Gen. Yevgenii Podkolzin, later denied that Statskov's recall had political significance, attributing it to the normal rotation of personnel. -- Scott Parrish PRIMAKOV CALLS FOR SUSPENSION OF SANCTIONS AGAINST BOSNIAN SERBS. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov called on 15 February for the international Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia to discuss suspending UN economic sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs, Russian and Western agencies reported. In a phone conversation with his U.S. counterpart Warren Christopher, Primakov described the suspension of the sanctions as "important and urgent" and insisted that "all obstacles" to this measure have now been removed. Russia and the U.S. disagree over whether the Bosnian Serbs have met the conditions specified in the Dayton Accords for suspension of the sanctions, blocking action on the issue by the UN Security Council (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February 1996) . The issue will likely be addressed at the Rome summit on Bosnia, now scheduled for 17-18 February. -- Scott Parrish DEFENSE MINISTRY BUDGET. Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said his ministry asked for 71 trillion rubles ($15 billion) for 1996, but was only granted 41 trillion ($8.6 billion), Russian Television reported on 15 February. He was speaking to a meeting of Defense Ministry civilian trade unions near Moscow. He added that 15 trillion of this year's spending will go to paying off 1995 debts. Meanwhile, the residents of the village Bolshoi Kamen in Primorsk Krai dismantled two old diesel submarines and sold them for scrap, in order to pay the local garrison's wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. -- Peter Rutland GROMOV: CASUALTIES IN CHECHNYA WORSE THAN AFGHANISTAN. Col.-Gen. Boris Gromov, former commander of the Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan, told a 14 February Moscow news conference that the Russian army has suffered more serious losses in Chechnya than the Soviet army did in Afghanistan. Gromov was clearly referring to the casualty rate, not total losses. He said 13,833 servicemen had been killed and some 50,000 wounded during the involvement in Afghanistan. The worst year was 1984, when 2,227 soldiers were killed. According to Gromov, the Russian army suffered losses similar to the 1984 death toll in the first four months of 1995. Gromov contended that Defense Minister Grachev failed to take account of the "Afghan lessons" when planning operations in Chechnya, blaming the mistake on "Grachev's loyalty to one person rather than the army." -- Doug Clarke RUSSIA AND FRANCE SIGN ECONOMIC ACCORDS. French Prime Minister Alain Juppe and his Russian counterpart Viktor Chernomyrdin signed five economic agreements following the first meeting of a Franco-Russian Economic Commission on 15 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The deals included a $500 million line of credit for the oil industry, and $300 million for aerospace, agribusiness, and other projects. Juppe later said France supports Russia's pending application for a $9 billion IMF extended facility loan. He also endorsed transforming the G-7 into the G-8 by admitting Russia, a change Russian leaders have long advocated. In 1995, Franco-Russian trade totaled only $2.4 billion, or 2% of Russian foreign trade. -- Scott Parrish and Natalia Gurushina URGENT NEED FOR LAND CODE. Nikolai Komov, the head of the Russian Committee on Land Allocation and Use, argued that a Land Code is urgently needed to codify land holdings and enable taxes and revenue to be raised from landholders. Passage of a land code has been blocked in the Duma by opponents of private land ownership. Speaking on Radio Mayak on 15 February, Komov suggested that 13 trillion rubles ($2.7 billion) a year could be raised by taxing the nation's 55 million individual and 400,000 enterprise landholders. Meanwhile, several citizens are appealing to the Constitutional Court over the Moscow city tax on non- resident apartment owners. Under a September 1994 local law, Russians who buy a Moscow flat must pay a tax of 500 times the monthly minimum wage (about $6,000), and foreigners 5,000 times (about $60,000) per apartment, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 15 February. -- Peter Rutland TAX REVENUES BELOW TARGET. Vladimir Gusev, the head of the Tax Inspectorate, said that the federal budget raised only 15 trillion rubles ($3.2 billion) per month in 1995 instead of the planned 20 trillion, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. Only 14 trillion were gathered in January 1996, yet the tax target for 1996 is 246 trillion rubles, 60% higher than 1995. Gusev said that a "legal vacuum" means that 1 trillion rubles of tax money owed by firms is tied up in commercial banks. In related news, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 16 February that on 31 January all federal and municipal agencies have been ordered to switch their accounts from commercial banks to the Central Bank or Savings Bank (Sberbank), unless the latter authorize another bank to act as their agent. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ECONOMIC DECLINE IN TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA. Finansovye izvestiya, citing the CIS Intergovernmental Statistics Committee, reported on 15 February that in 1995 Azerbaijan's GDP declined by 17.2%, Tajikistan's by 12.4%, Kazakhstan's by 8.9%, and Kyrgyzstan's by 6.2%. The continuing deterioration of Azerbaijan's economy is probably connected with the war in Chechnya, as a result of which Russia closed the border between Azerbaijan and Dagestan. -- Lowell Bezanis ONE DAY OF PEACE IN TAVIL-DARA. Government and opposition forces agreed to cease hostilities on 15 February in order to hand over the bodies of government troops killed there since fighting broke out on 31 January, Reuters reported. A joint team from the UN and the International Red Cross monitored the delivery of 92 bodies. Western sources estimate that the actual number of dead on the government side is several times higher, but heavy snow is hampering the search for casualties in Tavil- Dara. -- Bruce Pannier MINERS IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN CONTINUE HUNGER STRIKE. The wives and mothers of the 25 miners who are on an indefinite hunger strike in the mining town of Kentau in southern Kazakhstan have threatened to join the coal workers if the 15-month wage arrears are not paid immediately, a representative of the Independent Trade Union of Kazakhstan told Western media on 16 February. He added that electricity and hot water supplies have been cut off for months in most of the miners' houses. As yet, the Kazakhstani government has taken no steps to meet the miners' demands. -- Bhavna Dave PROBLEMS BETWEEN BISHKEK AND ANKARA. According to Zaman on 15 February, relations between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan are under strain after Turkey froze $40 million in Eximbank credits to Bishkek. Other bilateral problems noted include the failure of Kyrgyzstan (and other Central Asian states) to contribute to the establishment of a joint Turkish- Central Asian Bank and to send 100 experts for training in Turkey. Articles treating problems between what Ankara terms "brother republics" are rare in the Turkish press; Zaman is probably sounding the alarm bell in the hope that Ankara will take steps to keep Bishkek happy. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Penny Morvant 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. To subscribe, send "SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L YourFirstName YourLastName" (without the quotation marks and inserting your name where shown) to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU No subject line or other text should be included. To receive the OMRI Daily Digest by mail or fax, please direct inquiries to OMRI Publications, Na Strzi 63, 140 62 Prague 4, Czech Republic; or electronically to OMRIPUB@OMRI.CZ Tel.: (42-2) 6114 2114; fax: (42-2) 426 396 Please note that there is a new procedure for obtaining permission to reprint or redistribute the OMRI Daily Digest. Before reprinting or redistributing this publication, please write firstname.lastname@example.org for a copy of the new policy or look at this URL: http://www.omri.cz/Publications/Digests/DigestReprint.html OMRI also publishes the biweekly journal Transition, which contains expanded analysis of many of the topics in the Daily Digest. For Transition subscription information send an e-mail to TRANSITION@OMRI.CZ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570
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