|Treat your friends as you do your pictures, and place them in their best light. - Jennie Jerome Churchill|
No. 38, Part I, 22 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ IMF CHIEF ARRIVES IN MOSCOW. On 21 February the managing director of the IMF, Michel Camdessus, arrived in Moscow for talks on a new three year $9 billion Extended Fund Facility loan to Russia. He told Izvestiya of 21 February that "we are close to the final point," in signing the deal. The IMF is still trying to persuade Russia to lift export duties on oil, currently 20 ECU ($25.60) a ton, although the government is unlikely to budge on this issue. Western financial markets assume that the loan is a done deal and have already discounted the loan's formal announcement. -- Peter Rutland ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA ZYUGANOV BACKTRACKS ON ABOLISHING PRESIDENCY. The frontrunner in the presidential campaign, Gennadii Zyuganov, told a group of supporters that his Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) does not stand for abolishing the institution of the presidency, but only for "redistributing" the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. The KPRF platform for parliamentary elections, adopted at an August 1995 party conference, called for eventually amending the constitution to abolish the presidency but using the post during the "transitional period" to alter the course of reforms. -- Laura Belin DUMA PASSES BILL ON ELECTION MONITORING IN FIRST READING. The State Duma passed in the first reading a draft law on public control over elections and referendums, which outlines the rights of election observers and would allow for ordinary citizens, not just representatives of political parties and organizations, to monitor polling stations and ballot counts, NTV reported on 21 February. Yabloko deputy Viktor Sheinis, one of the bill's authors, told ITAR-TASS that it would increase public confidence in election results. A similar measure was rejected 11 times by the last Duma. Also on 21 February, the Duma adopted a resolution "on the unsatisfactory financing of education and sciences" by a vote of 320 to one, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution faults the government for not fulfilling the budget, the law on education, and a presidential decree on developing education in Russia. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN MEETS WITH MEDIA LEADERS. At a meeting with mass media heads, President Boris Yeltsin denied rumors of a possible postponement of the upcoming presidential election. Russian media reported on 21 February that Yeltsin is confident of winning, possibly in the first round, noting that about 7 million signatures have been collected in support of his candidacy. Despite Yeltsin's intention to hold meetings with pro- reform parties leaders to unite the democratic forces before the election and the involvement of former first Vice-Premier Anatolii Chubais in Yeltsin's election campaign, Yeltsin announced that he would run as a non-partisan candidate since for him "all voters are equal." Addressing the journalists, Yeltsin stressed the importance of objectively covering the election campaign while at the same time affirming his belief in the constitutional right of freedom of speech. -- Anna Paretskaya ORT TO TAKE ON NTV'S "ITOGI." The NTV weekly current events program "Itogi" (Results), one of Russia's most influential news shows, will have new competition on Sunday nights from Russian Public TV (ORT), ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. The television journalist and Duma deputy Aleksandr Nevzorov will be the main consultant for the new program, which will replace ORT's relatively unsuccessful "Voskresenie" (Sunday) on 3 March. Nevzorov's controversial ORT news magazine "Dikoe Pole" (Wild Field) will be taken off the air for "at least several months" while he works on this new project. In October, the Presidential Chamber on Information Disputes recommended that "Dikoe Pole" be canceled after a show filmed in a women's prison was found to have violated the prisoners' privacy rights (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 October 1995). Laura Belin DUMA APPROVES COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERSHIP. On 21 February, the State Duma passed a bill, 304-18, endorsing membership in the Council of Europe, Russian and Western agencies reported. The measure now goes to the Federation Council, where its rapid approval is expected. In a speech urging deputies to approve the bill, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said joining the council is in Russia's national interest, adding that membership would allow Russia to better defend the interests of ethnic Russians living abroad, especially in the Baltic states. Duma International Affairs Committee Chair Vladimir Lukin assured his colleagues that the benefits of council membership would more than justify the up to $25 million annual dues which Russia will be obligated to contribute to the organization. Russia is scheduled to become the 39th member of the council at a 27-28 February ceremony in Strasbourg. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW BLACK SEA FLEET COMMANDER. President Yeltsin appointed Vice-Admiral Viktor Kravchenko as commander of the Black Sea Fleet, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February. Kravchenko replaces Admiral Eduard Baltin, who was sacked earlier this month (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 February 1996). Kravchenko, 52, a submariner, has years of experience in the Black Sea Fleet. He served in a series of posts there following his graduation in 1968 from the Frunze Naval College, eventually rising to become the fleet's Deputy Chief of Staff. After attending the General Staff Academy, Kravchenko became First Deputy Commander of the Baltic Fleet in 1990, a post he held until his current appointment. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN SACKS SENIOR OFFICIALS. In an attempt to improve his standing with voters ahead of the June elections, President Yeltsin issued decrees on 21 February ordering the dismissal of several federal and regional officials for misusing federal budget allocations and causing delays in the payment of wages and pensions, Russian and Western agencies reported. The regional bosses sacked are Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Pavel Balakshin, Saratov Oblast Governor Yurii Belykh, and the presidential envoy in Saratov Vladimir Golovachev. Presidential economics advisor Aleksandr Livshits said Yeltsin also ordered the dismissal of senior treasury official Aleksandr Smirnov and federal postal chief Vyacheslav Polyakov, noting that about half of Russia's post offices have misused money from the Pension Fund. Yeltsin also reprimanded Gazprom head Rem Vyakherev and Integrated Energy System chief Anatolii Dyakov for poor control over wage payments and proposed that they sack some regional representatives. Wage arrears, now totalling over 20 trillion rubles, have provoked strikes and angered voters. Yeltsin also signed a decree retiring Yevgenii Bychkov, the head of the Russian Federation Committee for Precious Metals and Stones (Roskomdragmet), who is under criminal investigation for embezzlement, ITAR-TASS reported. Bychkov has been linked to deals that siphoned off uncut gems worth millions of dollars, but he has denied any wrongdoing. -- Penny Morvant DUMA FLEXES MUSCLES ON ECONOMIC POLICY. On 21 February, the Duma overrode a Yeltsin veto of a law tying food prices to farm input prices and introducing guaranteed prices for farmers, ITAR-TASS reported. The Federation Council had already approved the law, originally passed by the Duma in October. Also yesterday, the Duma passed another law on VAT, formerly vetoed by Yeltsin. The new version removes a VAT waiver for imports of foreign machinery. -- Peter Rutland CONGRESS OF SMALL BUSINESSES MEETS. Addressing the first Russian congress of small businesses in Moscow on 19 February, President Boris Yeltsin said "Market relations have taken root in Russian soil and are developing dynamically," and that "Small businesses mean the creation of a powerful middle class, without which there can be no stability," the BBC reported the next day. There were 900,000 small businesses in Russia in 1995 (200,000 of them in Moscow), a 5% increase over 1994, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. They employed 14 million people (2 million in Moscow) and accounted for 9% of the country's GDP. However, delegates complained of high taxes and bureaucratic barriers. A $300 million credit line was opened last year by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. However, only 15% of small businesses were able to get credits from banks or state funds in 1995. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIA AND AZERBAIJAN An agreement on economic, scientific-technical and cultural cooperation between the Kalmyk Republic and Azerbaijan was signed, Turan reported on 21 February. The agreement is identical to one reached last week between Azerbaijan and Astrakhan oblast, another subject of the Russian Federation, the report noted. Meanwhile, on 19 February Radio Baku reported that railway traffic between Russia and Azerbaijan has been partially restored. Last December, Azerbaijan requested that Russia lift the restrictions it imposed on the movement of people and goods the previous year which, according to Azerbaijani officials, has resulted in the republic losing some $250 million dollars in trade. -- Lowell Bezanis TURKEY AND GEORGIA. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel has offered his assistance in settling the Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February citing Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's press service. The day before, Shevardnadze praised Demirel for his support of Georgia's territorial integrity in his weekly radio address. Meanwhile, Iberia news agency reported that Turkey has agreed to finance the construction of an oil pipeline to transport "early-oil" from Baku to the Georgian port of Supsa. A final decision on the need for the estimated 926 km long pipeline, and its financing, is to be taken by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) next week, according to the Turkish press. -- Lowell Bezanis RUSSIAN EMIGRATION FROM UZBEKISTAN CONTINUES. In spite of efforts by both the Russian and Uzbek governments to address the issue of ethnic Russians living in Uzbekistan, that population still continues to leave the country. According to Rossiiskaya gazeta on 22 February, the Russian Embassy in Tashkent issues an average of 130-150 citizenship certificates a day, totaling more than 170,000 over the past several years. This figure represents a minority of the estimated 500,000 who have left Uzbekistan for Russia. The article noted that in addition to Russians, Koreans, Jews, Germans, Bashkirs, and Tatars are also emigrating. In contrast, about 20 people leave Russia for Uzbekistan each month to become citizens there. -- Roger Kangas UZBEK GOVERNMENT TO FUND HAJJ TRAVELERS. Uzbek citizens planning to travel to Mecca for this year's hajj are to receive government assistance, Uzbek television reported on 19 February, as cited by the BBC. According to a government decree, the Uzbek Muslim Board, in conjunction with the government's Committee for Religious Affairs, will organize a pilgrimage from Tashkent to the Muslim holy city. In addition, government ministries will assist in foreign currency acquisition, health care certification, and the processing of all necessary paperwork. Uzbekistan Hawo Yollari (Uzbekistan Airlines) will provide transportation. In recent years, thousands of Uzbeks have taken part in the pilgrimage, in stark contrast to the several dozen a year permitted during the Soviet era. -- Roger Kangas PRIMAKOV CONCLUDES VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN. Concluding his one day visit to Almaty, the Russian foreign minister Yevgenii Primakov assured Kazakhstan that Russia wants a voluntary CIS integration and not a return to the USSR, Russian media reported on 21 February. Primakov denied the existence of any major bilateral disagreements between the countries, though admitted that differences remain over the status of Caspian and sharing of its resources. Primakov told Russian Public TV (ORT) that Kazakhstan is most likely to backtrack on its earlier decision to withdraw its contingent from the CIS peacekeeping forces in Tajikistan--Russia wants to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces. Both countries agreed to hold joint talks with China on the border issue in April. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that President Yeltsin will visit Kazakhstan either before or after these talks. --Bhavna Dave KAZAKHSTANI-HUNGARIAN COOPERATION. The visiting Hungarian president Arpad Goencz, and a Hungarian trade delegation headed by the industry and trade minister Imre Dunai held talks with the Kazakhstani deputy prime minister Akmetzhan Yesimov on 20 February, according to an MTI report monitored by the BBC. It added that Kazakhstan is seeking Hungary's involvement in projects to develop the country's railways, health care, and housing and energy sector. Yesimov and Dunai signed a protocol on intergovernmental trade agreements. They also discussed the possibility of Kazakhstan supplying gas to Hungary in exchange for Hungarian involvement in building the Yambrg gas pipeline and the Tengiz oil refinery. --Bhavna Dave [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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