|Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand. - Thomas Carlyle|
No. 37, Part I, 21 February 1996
New OMRI Analytical Briefs: - "North Korea Blasts ITAR-TASS for Coverage of Embassy Incident", by Scott Parrish. - "Hungary's Finance Minister Steps Down", by Zsofia Szilagyi - "Bulgarian Press Condemns Arrest of Colleagues", by Stefan Krause - "Austrian Court Releases Kovac Jr.", by Sharon Fisher Available only via the World Wide Web: http://www.omri.cz/Publications/Analytical/Index.html 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIAN FORCES TAKE NOVOGROZNENSKII. Russian federal troops succeeded in taking the east Chechen village of Novogroznenskii on 20 February after a five day battle in which up to 200 Chechen militants were killed, Western agencies reported. Most of the Chechen contingent managed to escape through Russian lines before the final onslaught which left many buildings in flames. Also on 20 February, unidentified Chechen gunmen attacked the Grozny oil refinery, setting ablaze a storage tank containing 3,000 metric tons of fuel, according to Reuters. In Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree transforming the Federal Authorities in Chechnya into the office of the Russian Government's Representative in Chechnya, and appointing Nikolai Fedosov as Russian plenipotentiary there, Russian Television reported. -- Liz Fuller ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA YELTSIN ENDORSED BY FEDOROV... The failure of Russia's democratic camp to agree on a common presidential candidate has moved Forward, Russia! leader Boris Fedorov to endorse President Boris Yeltsin's reelection bid, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. Although he opposes the government's economic policies, Fedorov said "it is better to stay in the same place than to go backwards." He added that if Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the current front-runner in the race, is elected, Russia will face several years of "dangerous experiments." Leaving his options open, however, Fedorov confirmed that Forward, Russia! will continue collecting signatures to place Fedorov himself on the ballot, as was decided at a 17 February conference of the movement, Ekspress-khronika reported. -- Laura Belin ...AND LAKHOVA. On 20 February, Women of Russia leader Yekaterina Lakhova also endorsed Yeltsin's candidacy, calling Zyuganov's campaign promises "populism" and "empty words," Russian media reported. Lakhova was a presidential adviser on women's and family issues from August 1992 until January 1994, when Yeltsin appointed her to head the Presidential Commission on Women, Family and Children, a post she still holds. She helped found Women of Russia in October 1993. During 1994 and 1995, her Duma faction sometimes voted with the Communists in parliament, but often supported the government on key issues, such as the budget. Although the movement just missed the 5% threshold in the December Duma elections, Lakhova was elected in a single-member district. -- Laura Belin KOHL OPENLY ENDORSES YELTSIN. Disregarding criticism that he has tied German policy too closely to President Boris Yeltsin, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told journalists on 20 February that Yeltsin is the "best president for Russia," Russian and Western agencies reported. Kohl also rejected as "idiotic" suggestions that the West should cut aid to Russia, saying Russia's internal political situation would "certainly take a turn for the worse" in the absence of Western support. Earlier, a spokesman for the opposition German Social Democratic Party (SPD) had likened Kohl's support of Yeltsin to "playing Russian roulette" with Russo-German relations since Yeltsin may not win a second term. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told ITAR-TASS the same day that Kohl's visit was deliberately designed to help Yeltsin's re-election bid, a view Kohl has publicly denied. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN BLAMES PREVIOUS PARLIAMENT FOR VIOLATING FEDERALISM PRINCIPLES. In a letter to Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, President Boris Yeltsin denounced the previous Russian parliament for violating federalist principles in its legislative practice, Russian agencies reported on 20 February. Some of the federal laws passed by the parliament adressed issues which, according to the constitution, fall under exclusive jurisdiction of regional or local authorities. The letter asked Federation Council members, who are federation subjects' leaders, to adhere to the principles of power separation between center and regions and avoid adopting laws which exceed the limits of federal jurisdiction. -- Anna Paretskaya COURT NARROWS DEFINITION OF PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. In response to an enquiry from President Boris Yeltsin about the constitutionality of various legal provisions on the status of deputies, the Constitutional Court ruled that a member of the Federal Assembly is only immune to prosecution if the legal violation in question is directly related to his or her duties as a deputy, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 February. Thus, deputies can be sued for all other criminal and administrative offenses. In November 1994, MMM investment fund head Sergei Mavrodi escaped prosecution for tax fraud by winning a seat in the Duma in a by-election. -- Penny Morvant SWISS FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW. On 20 February, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his Swiss counterpart, Flavio Cotti, Russian agencies reported. Switzerland holds the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE for 1996, and in this capacity Cotti discussed with Primakov the Chechen, Georgian-Abkhazian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, as well as the Russian minority in Estonia, according to ITAR-TASS. Cotti later told journalists that he had expressed "concern" to Primakov over the continued military operations in Chechnya, but noted Primakov had admitted that a military solution to the Chechen conflict was "unrealistic." He also said Russia and the OSCE would more closely coordinate their efforts to settle the Georgian-Abkhazian and Nagorno- Karabakh conflicts. and expressed "understanding" for Russian concerns about the status of the ethnic Russian minority in Estonia. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT COMMISSION DISCUSSES CIS POLICY. The Russian Governmental Committee on CIS Affairs met in Moscow on 20 February under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov, ITAR-TASS reported. The committee discussed plans for implementing the CIS strategy outlined in a September 1995 presidential decree (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 September 1995). The meeting also heard a report on Russian military cooperation with the other CIS states from Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Zhurbenko, who reported that the CIS states owe the Russian Defense Ministry $6.7 million, mostly for training their officers at Russian military academies. Despite these debts, the committee endorsed Zhurbenko's proposal that funds to finance the training of up to 1,000 cadets from the CIS be earmarked in the 1997 Russian federal budget, citing the Commonwealth's strategic importance. -- Scott Parrish UN SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS RELEASE OF RUSSIAN PILOTS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin told journalists on 20 February of the UN Security Council's demand for the "immediate and unconditional" release of seven Russian airmen held captive by the Afghan Taliban movement, Russian agencies reported. The airmen have been held in Kandahar for over six months, since their IL-76 transport was forced down last August (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 August 1995) Hopes that they would be released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when amnesties are traditionally granted in many Muslim countries, have not materialized. Although the Taliban agreed in principle to free the pilots, they have refused to set an exact date for their release, reneging on an earlier promise to release them on 30 December 1995. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA STILL WARY OVER NATO EXPANSION. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin told journalists on 20 February that Russia was "concerned" about recent suggestions by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense John White that American forces might remain in Hungary longer than the one year IFOR mandate. Karasin said White's suggestion, later described by the Pentagon as a misstatement, caused Russian officials to wonder about the implications of NATO building an infrastructure in Hungary to support IFOR troops in Bosnia. Karasin said Russia feared that NATO was pushing forward with the "actual intensification" of expansion, even though Western leaders have recently assured Russia that the alliance will not expand during 1996. Karasin reiterated the Russian view that any discussion of NATO expansion was "destructive" and provoked "distrust and suspicion." -- Scott Parrish ATTACK ON MOSKOVSKII KOMSOMOLETS JOURNALIST FOILED. Two men broke into the home of Moskovskii komsomolets journalist Aleksandr Minkin on 20 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. The unidentified assailants, armed with steel bars, fled after Minkin's family woke up and called for help. This was the second attack on Minkin in the past year. Last September, he suffered a broken nose after being beaten up near his home. In October 1994 another journalist for the muck-raking Moskovskii komsomolets, Dmitrii Kholodov, was killed by a booby-trapped briefcase. -- Penny Morvant ALCOHOL IN THE CIS. Delegates to the fourth congress of the International League of Sobriety and Health, which opened in Moscow on 20 February, described alcoholism as a serious obstacle to the implementation of socioeconomic reforms, Russian agencies reported. According to data presented at the conference, Belarus has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the CIS--7 liters--and Tajikistan the lowest (O.8 liters). Russia was in second place, with 6.8 liters; other reports, however, have put annual Russian consumption at a much higher level of 15 liters. Delegates noted that relative spending on alcohol in the CIS has fallen over the past four years, as prices for alcohol have not risen as fast as those for other goods. In Russia, the Economics Ministry has set minimum prices for strong alcoholic beverages, effective 12 March, in an attempt to protect the market from low-quality, particularly illicit and contraband products. -- Penny Morvant MOSCOW METRO WORKERS PICKET GOVERNMENT BUILDING. About 50 Moscow metro building workers picketed the Russian government building on 20 February to demand the payment of back wages and federal financing for the Metrostroi company, Ekspress-Khronika reported. The metro workers had sent an open letter to President Yeltsin on 16 February expressing their "indignation" at underfunding, noting that they have received nothing from the 2.3 trillion rubles earmarked for the metro from the federal budget and an additional 1.3 trillion in promised government investment, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the workers, the lack of funding has paralyzed the construction of new lines and halted work to replace rolling stock and escalators as well as delaying wages. -- Penny Morvant TRUD ON WAGE ARREARS. Instead of their wages, hundreds of thousands of Russian workers are receiving documents certifying that they are employed but that their employer is currently unable to pay them, Trud reported on 20 February. These certificates can then be presented to officials at municipal housing offices, pre-schools and other organizations that require the regular payment of fees. According to Goskomstat, the wage debt in the Russian economy on 20 January equaled 20.4 trillion rubles ($4.25 billion), ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. -- Penny Morvant OIL COMPANIES ANNOUNCE A 25% PRICE RISE FROM 1 MARCH. Russia's leading oil companies announced that they will increase the price of crude oil by 25% starting 1 March, Russian media reported on 20 February. The companies claim that the rationale for this move is provided by the government's November 1995 decision to reappraise the industry's assets, increasing their value by an average of 140-160%. The resulting larger depreciation outlays, they say, will boost production costs from 209,000 rubles to 344,000 rubles per ton, and push the average price of one ton of crude above 400,000 rubles ($84). -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA REGIONAL GOVERNMENT CHANGES IN TAJIKISTAN. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov continues to reshuffle administrative positions in the wake of this month's crises, western and Russian sources noted. According to ITAR-TASS on 19 February, the Chairman of the Tursun Zade regional government, Murodali Tabarov, has been relieved of his duties "at his own request," and replaced by Sadullo Mirzoyev, who is a current member of the Tajik parliament. Tajik Radio also reported, as noted by the BBC, that the new head of the Pyandj district, which is located along the Tajik-Afghan border, will be Chillakhon Isoyev. In the past two weeks, Rakhmonov has replaced 6 government advisors, including the prime minister, as well as the chairman of the Leninabad region, before these most recent changes which involve the very regions where fighting has taken place. -- Roger Kangas KAZAKHSTANI DEFENSE MINISTER STRESSES TRILATERAL COOPERATION. In an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta on 10 February, Kazakhstan's defense minister Alibek Kasymov said that trilateral cooperation between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, based on common defense interests and common defense space is yet another step toward attaining military integration. He said he does not see the CIS collective security treaty as a kind of counterbalance to alliances such as NATO or ASEAN. Kasymov also denied any "ethnic problem" in the country's army which he claimed is almost equally composed of Russians and Kazakhs, though there is a greater number of Kazakhs among privates and non-commissioned officers. Finally, he added that two Russian divisions -- heavy bombers and missiles -- have already withdrawn from Kazakhstan and the remaining units will be withdrawn later this year. -- Bhavna Dave UN TO ADVISE CENTRAL ASIAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE. The United Nations plans to send advisors to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to advise the three countries on the formation of a previously agreed upon joint peacekeeping battalion under UN auspices, the Uzbek paper Narodnoe slovo reported on 20 February, as cited by the BBC. The paper published a letter from UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the presidents of the three Central Asian states in which he thanked them for their decision to establish a joint peacekeeping battalion and announced that he would shortly be sending two senior officials to provide their governments with "essential technical advice." -- Doug Clarke [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Roger Kangas 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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