|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
No. 49, Part I, 08 March 1996
New OMRI Analytical Briefs: - "On the U.S. State Department's Annual Report on Human Rights", by Alaina Lemon 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ FIGHTING CONTINUES IN GROZNY. Fighting between Chechen militants and Russian federal troops continued at various locations throughout Grozny on 7 March. Russian media offered contradictory assessments of the situation, quoting Russian Interior Ministry sources as claiming that by evening the situation had "somewhat stabilized" and a representative of the Russian military as estimating that the militants controlled one third of the city. Estimates of both military and civilian casualties are similarly inconsistent, but number in the hundreds. Meeting in Moscow on 7 March, the Russian Security Council agreed on the broad outline of a plan for regulating the Chechen conflict. Questioned by NTV, President Boris Yeltsin declined to disclose details but promised to do so in a special TV appearance in late March. -- Liz Fuller ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA YABLOKO PUSHING NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE. Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction is once again calling for the State Duma to hold a vote of no confidence in the government following the latest outbreak of fighting in Grozny, Radio Rossii reported on 7 March. A statement issued by Yabloko deputies noted that while the president and prime minister claim publicly to be searching for a peaceful end to the Chechen conflict, Russian forces are carrying out large-scale military operations in the republic. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN CONGRATULATES WOMEN. . . President Boris Yeltsin told a Kremlin reception on 6 March that the future of Russia is in women's hands, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. In his speech--in honor of International Women's Day (8 March)--Yeltsin stressed the role of women in bringing up children and said that policies to improve the lot of children are a top priority. The position of many children in Russia has deteriorated since the collapse of communism, because of falling living standards and an increase in the number of broken homes and domestic violence. -- Penny Morvant . . .WOMEN EARN LESS. Women make up 87% of employed Russian urban residents with a personal income of less than 100,000 rubles ($21) a month, according to the findings of a poll by the Public Opinion Fund released on the eve of International Women's Day. The higher the income bracket, the lower the proportion of women. ITAR-TASS said that women constitute 71% of those with earnings between 200,000 and 400,000 rubles; 57% of those earning 400,000 to 600,000 rubles; 45% of those with incomes between 600,000 and 1 million; 38% of those earning from 1 to 1.5 million; and only 32% of those earning more than 1.5 million. The 8,869 people surveyed by the poll all have a higher or secondary specialized education. -- Penny Morvant CONSTITUTIONAL COURT PROTECTS JUDGES. The Constitutional Court has ruled that judges' immunity from criminal prosecution is an exception to the general principle that all citizens are equal before the law, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 7 March. Immunity for judges is "not a personal privilege," but "a guarantee of judicial independence," the ruling said. However, complaints against judges can be heard by boards of judicial experts; according to NTV, last year 54 judges accused of misconduct were stripped of their posts by councils of their peers. -- Laura Belin NEMTSOV REJECTS GAIDAR'S PROPOSAL TO RUN FOR PRESIDENCY. Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov has said he will not run for president, NTV and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 7 March. Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar said that Nemtsov was the only democratic candidate who could offer a viable challenge to the Communists. Meanwhile, Nemtsov has proposed that limits be placed on presidential authority to mitigate the effect of a Communist victory in the election, NTV reported on 7 March. Nemtsov said the Communist deputies in the Duma should support his proposal since the Communist Party itself says that it wants to eliminate the presidency. -- Anna Paretskaya YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW GOVERNORS. On 7 March, President Yeltsin appointed Oleg Savchenko, his representative in Kaluga Oblast, to the post of the oblast head of administration, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier this week, Yeltsin appointed Anatolii Yefremov, deputy head of the Arkhangelsk Oblast administration, to the post of oblast governor. The previous Kaluga governor resigned in January due to a government reshuffle following the Communist victory in the Duma elections; the former Arkhangelsk administration head was fired in February, along with some other regional leaders, for their alleged misuse of budget funds. -- Anna Paretskaya IRANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS MOSCOW. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati met in Moscow with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, and President Yeltsin on 7 March, international media reported. After discussing the Tajik and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, Primakov declared that Russia and Iran share a mutual interest in the "stability of frontier regions." Primakov defended Velayati's denial that Iran had any links with the recent suicide bombings in Israel, while Velayati added that Iran opposes any expansion of NATO. Yeltsin later urged Velayati to use Iran's influence to combat international terrorism, but backtracking from earlier comments that Chechen fighters are trained in Iran, he "positively assessed" Iran's position on the Chechen conflict. -- Scott Parrish DID RUSSIA CONDUCT A NUCLEAR TEST? U.S. officials on 7 March offered varying assessments of allegations published in the The Washington Times that Russia conducted a nuclear test in mid-January. The paper, citing anonymous sources at the U.S. Defense Department, said Russia detonated a small nuclear device at its Novaya Zemlya test site, breaking a moratorium on nuclear tests observed since 1992. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns denied that Russia had conducted a nuclear test, saying "we believe the moratorium continues." Defense Secretary William Perry, however, told a Congressional hearing that "some evidence" suggests that a test may have taken place. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA BLASTS NATO EXPANSION PLANS AT DISARMAMENT CONFERENCE. Ambassador Grigorii Berdennikov, head of the Russian delegation to the 38-nation UN Conference on Disarmament, declared that plans for the eastward expansion of NATO "poison the entire international climate," Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 March. Speaking at a Geneva meeting of the conference, which is negotiating a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), he also condemned proposals by Republican members of the U.S. Congress that the U.S. withdraw from the 1972 ABM Treaty. While Berdennikov said Russia hopes to conclude a CTBT agreement in 1996, his comments suggest that Russia intends to link NATO expansion with arms control issues. -- Scott Parrish NUCLEAR PLANTS POSE "UNACCEPTABLE" RISK. Senior Russian ecologist Aleksei Yablokov said on 6 March that Russia's nuclear plants pose an "unacceptable risk" and that massive investment is required to bring safety standards up to those in the West, Reuters reported. Yablokov, who heads the Security Council's ecological safety commission, said several NGOs had joined forces to lobby for glasnost in the nuclear industry. An international nuclear safety summit, to be attended by President Yeltsin and G-7 leaders, will take place in Moscow on 19 April, a week before the 10th anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear catastrophe. Environmental groups such as Yablokov's Center for Russian Environment Policy and Norway's Bellona Foundation will hold their own meeting on the eve of the summit. They will focus on secrecy in the nuclear sphere and the aftermath of Chornobyl. -- Penny Morvant YELTSIN SIGNS ANTI-TERRORIST DECREE. President Yeltsin signed a decree on strengthening anti-terrorist measures on 7 March, Russian media reported. The decree orders government agencies to formulate a federal law on anti-terrorism in two months, and instructs the Foreign Intelligence Service to uncover the international connections of Russian terrorist groups. The decree also urges the mass media to show restraint when covering terrorist acts and anti-terrorist operations. -- Constantine Dmitriev ANTI-TERRORIST EXERCISES DISRUPT LIFE IN PERM. An anti-terrorist drill in the Urals city of Perm confused the local authorities, police, and media, Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 March. Five Federal Security Service (FSB) officers, impersonating terrorists, seized a local oil-refinery and took the staff hostage. They said the building was mined, demanded a $2 million ransom, and threatened to begin killing hostages. The local police forces, who were not informed that the building was "mined," stormed the building. Meanwhile, four other FSB officers in civilian clothes armed with Kalashnikov rifles crossed the city by tram and seized the oblast administration building. Perm Deputy Governor Valerii Shchukin, a former FSB colonel, said that he plans to hold similar drills every three months. -- Constantine Dmitriev NEW PRESIDENTIAL DECREE ON LAND OWNERSHIP. President Yeltsin signed a new decree "On the constitutional rights of the citizen to land" on 7 March, Radio Rossii reported. The decree aims to clarify the property rights of the more than 40 million citizens who have land plots and 12 million rural workers who have been given land shares. Progress in land reform is a condition of IMF lending, but the new Land Code has been held up in parliament for more than a year by Communist and Agrarian deputies who oppose private land ownership. The decree, which only applies to land allocated before 1991, forbids local authorities from levying lease payments or forcing land holders to buy out their plot. It is not clear to what extent plot owners are free to sell their land to new owners. -- Peter Rutland ALEKSASHENKO DENOUNCES "ZERO" AGREEMENT WITH BELARUS. Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko denounced the writing off of mutual debts between Russia and Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 March. The "zero" agreement, under which Russia waived the $910 million it was owed for gas supplies, was signed by the presidents of the two countries on 27 February. Aleksashenko said Gazprom has not been compensated for its lost revenues, which may limit its ability to pay taxes. Aleksashenko also stated that national import tariffs may not in fact be raised, despite last week's announcement of a 20% increase. Also on 7 March, Gazprom signed an agreement with the Moldovan government on the repayment of the latter's $380 million debt, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA AFGHAN PRESIDENT VISITS TAJIKISTAN. Afghan President Burhanaddin Rabbani arrived in Dushanbe on 7 March to discuss with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov the situation on their common border, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported the same day. The Tajik-Afghan border region has been the scene of clashes between CIS border guards and forces of the Tajik opposition who are based in Afghanistan since the 1992 civil war in Tajikistan. The border is also one of the first transit points for narcotics being smuggled from the area to markets in Europe and the U.S. The presidents also discussed the repatriation of some 8,000-10,000 Tajik refugees still in Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier OSCE AND U.S. DELEGATIONS IN UZBEKISTAN. An OSCE mission under Audrey Glover and a U.S. delegation headed by James Collins are visiting Tashkent, Russian, and Western media reported on 6 and 7 March. The OSCE delegation met with Uzbek Human Rights Commissioner Shavkat Urazayev, Justice Minister Sirajuddin Mirsafayev, and representatives of the court system and Foreign Ministry to discuss human rights violations and drug control policies. The Collins mission met with Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov to discuss the implementation of military conversion strategies in Uzbekistan. Uzbek TV reported that the U.S. visit is proof that Uzbek-U.S relations "have great potential for long-term development." -- Roger Kangas PROTESTS IN EAST KAZAKHSTAN OVER NUCLEAR TESTS COMPENSATION. Pensioners in the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk in East Kazakhstan Oblast staged a mass protest demanding the immediate payment of pensions and compensation for those who suffered from the effects of Soviet nuclear tests conducted in the neighboring test-site of Semipalatinsk, Kazakhstani TV reported on 5 March. Similar protests over the non-payment of pensions last November resulted in the replacement of the oblast head (see OMRI Daily Digest, 4 December 1995). -- Bhavna Dave WAGE ARREARS IN KAZAKHSTAN AMOUNT TO HALF A BILLION DOLLARS. State enterprises in Kazakhstan owe about $485 million to their employees as wage arrears and the figure is steadily rising, Kaztag reported on 7 March. Kazakhstani First Deputy Prime Minister Nigmatzhan Isingarin said that about 70% of the debt-ridden enterprises have not paid their employees for at least three months. . Wage arrears have led to numerous strikes by miners and other workers in recent months. A two-week-old hunger strike by 28 miners who had not been paid for 15 months by a mining enterprises in Southern Kazakhstan ended last month when a Swiss company, the mining enterprise's foreign partner, offered to pay. -- Bhavna Dave [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez 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. 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