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No. 52, Part I, 13 March 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ CONFUSION SURROUNDS DEFENSE MINISTRY MEETING. Contradicting earlier media reports, unidentified sources in the Defense Ministry claimed on 12 March that the ministry's collegium did not meet the day before and did not issue a statement rejecting criticism of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 March 1996). Grachev's aides prepared the collegium's statement as well as telegrams supporting the minister from various units, the sources claimed. Only the air force commander supported the statement, but the commanders of other branches did not, AFP reported. Although the statement appeared in a number of newspapers, including Nezavisimaya gazeta and Krasnaya zvezda, ITAR-TASS withdrew its story less than 90 minutes after it appeared, saying it was "mistaken." Presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said he had no confirmation of plans to remove Security Council Chairman Oleg Lobov and replace him with Grachev. -- Robert Orttung ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM FEDERAL MILITARY ACTIVITIES IN CHECHNYA. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's press secretary, Viktor Konnov, rejected criticism from Duma member Sergei Kovalev over the bombing of rebel Chechen forces in Bamut , saying Kovalev should direct his questions to the ministers of defense and interior, the so-called power ministers, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The power ministers are directly subordinated to the president, not the prime minister, who has sought to resolve the conflict through negotiations. Meanwhile, a group of Duma deputies is heading toward Bamut to act as negotiators and defend the lives of POWs in the village. -- Robert Orttung YELTSIN ON COUNCIL OF EUROPE. At a meeting with the 12 Federal Assembly deputies who will represent Russia in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, President Yeltsin urged the speedy ratification of the council's four basic conventions, Russian and Western media reported on 12 March. Yeltsin said Russia had "earned" council membership by making progress on democratization and human rights, but contended that Russia cannot immediately implement the council's standards, such as abolishing the death penalty. He also urged the deputies to vigorously defend the rights of ethnic Russians in the Baltic and CIS states. Apparently referring to the Chechen conflict, he told them to "resolutely rebuff attempts to pressure Russia, interfere in its internal affairs, and apply double standards." These remarks provoked a rebuke from Leni Fischer, speaker of the council's Parliamentary Assembly, who said "human rights are never a domestic issue." -- Scott Parrish GORBACHEV HAS ONE MILLION SIGNATURES. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has collected the 1 million signatures necessary to run in the June presidential election, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 12 March. Raisa Gorbachev, however, is trying to talk her husband out of participating in the campaign, ITAR-TASS reported. Eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov has amassed 900,000 signatures and Viktor Anpilov, of the Russian Communist Workers' Party, has 500,000. Commentators do not think any of these candidates has a serious chance at winning the presidency, since an effective campaign will cost an estimated 30 billion rubles ($6.25 million), of which the government will only provide 200 million rubles, Radio Rossii reported. -- Robert Orttung YEGOROV INITIATOR OF GOVERNMENT PURGES? Izvestiya has obtained a report prepared for President Yeltsin by Chief of Staff Nikolai Yegorov that seems to confirm rumors that Yegorov is one of the government's most ardent proponents of a cabinet reshuffle. The report blames the country's wage arrears on former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, saying he gave an oral order that tied up federal budget money in commercial banks; reports to this effect have already appeared in the mass media. The report also accuses the Finance Ministry and the Federal Treasury of "corruption and abuse of power on a giant scale" and proposes that Yeltsin take "adequate measures" to resolve the problem, Izvestiya reported on 13 March. -- Anna Paretskaya COURT: CANCELLATION OF REGIONAL ELECTION WAS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. The Kostroma Oblast Court has ruled that the oblast legislature violated the constitution when it canceled regional elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The election was supposed to take place in March when the Oblast Duma's term expires, but the legislature extended its term in office until December 1997, arguing that it was acting in accordance with a September 1995 presidential decree. Earlier this year, the Novgorod Oblast Court ruled that Article 1 of the decree--which sets December 1997 as the date for regional legislative elections-- contradicts the constitution and requested that the Constitutional Court examine the decree (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 February 1996). -- Anna Paretskaya VREMYA ADOPTS NEW LOOK. The Soviet-era evening news program "Vremya," which was revived several years ago on Russian Public TV, adopted a new format on 11 March. The show will have a more "energetic rhythm" according to its producer Kseniya Ponomareva. The revamp includes an updated version of Georgii Sviridov's well-known melody, electronic graphics, and a studio specially created for it, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung PRESIDENTIAL DECREE BOLSTERS FOREIGN MINISTRY. President Yeltsin has issued a decree charging the Foreign Ministry with overall coordination of Russian foreign policy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. Presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said the decree aims to ensure that all government agencies "adhere to a single position" on foreign policy issues. He complained that on occasion "some institutions" issued foreign policy statements that had not been cleared with the Foreign Ministry, causing confusion about the position of the Russian government. Medvedev admitted that previous presidential decrees had already given the ministry this coordinating function but said the ministry will now monitor statements made by government officials "more intensively." He also contended that the new decree would not undermine the Presidential Foreign Policy Council, which was created in December reportedly because former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev failed to coordinate policy effectively. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA LIFTS ARMS EMBARGO ON FORMER YUGOSLAVIA. President Yeltsin signed a directive on 12 March gradually lifting the arms embargo against the states of the former Yugoslavia, Russian and Western agencies reported. The directive, which presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev described as linked to the implementation of the Dayton accords and associated UN resolutions, allows Russia to begin military-technical cooperation talks immediately with the former Yugoslav states, including Bosnia- Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and rump Yugoslavia. After 14 March, Russia will be permitted to sell "defensive" weapons to these states, and after 11 June, all restrictions on military sales to the region will end, provided the UN secretary-general certifies that all warring parties have complied with the terms of the Dayton accords. While consistent with Dayton, the announcement appears designed to suggest to domestic audiences that Yeltsin is pursuing an independent course in the Balkans. -- Scott Parrish POWER CUTS, PROTESTS IN FAR EAST. Authorities in the Far East have cut energy supplies to almost all factories in the region because of growing power shortages, Western agencies reported on 11 March. Only vital facilities and companies are exempt. A regional official said the measure is intended to soften the impact of the shortages on the local population, who have had to live with severe power cuts for several weeks. Two factors are behind the problem. The federal government owes the region about 1 trillion rubles ($208 million) in fuel subsidies, which power companies need to pay for coal. Local energy consumers are also behind in payments, sending the power producers even deeper into debt. Also in Primorsk Krai, workers from two military-industrial plants in Bolshoi Kamen blocked the railway between Vladivostok and Nahodka for an hour on 12 March to protest wage arrears. -- Penny Morvant ALCOHOL TAKES TOLL ON RUSSIAN MEN. Fifty percent of men and 30% of women aged between 30 and 50 have experienced liver or heart problems as a result of chronic heavy drinking or have suffered alcohol poisoning, Aleksandr Nemtsov of the Alcohol Policy Center told ITAR-TASS on 12 March. Nemtsov said alcoholism is increasingly affecting the working-age population. On 12 March, the minimum retail price of a bottle of Russian or CIS-produced vodka or other spirits rose to 18,400 rubles ($3.80) a liter, while the minimum price for spirits imported from outside the CIS went up to 40,000 rubles ($8.30). ITAR-TASS said the increase does not affect brandy. -- Penny Morvant FEDERAL MIGRATION SERVICE TO BUILD HOUSING FOR REFUGEES. The Federal Migration Service of Russia (FMS) plans to spend 37% of the 2.2 trillion rubles ($458.3 million) that it was allocated in the 1996 federal budget on new housing for refugees and forced migrants, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. According to FMS spokesman Andrei Sarychev, another 25% will be spent on refugee reception centers and 20% on interest-free loans for refugees. Sarychev said that the 1996 budget is not sufficient to resolve the housing problem of refugees and forced migrants and added that it will take 10-15 years to build enough apartments given the slow pace of housing construction in Russia. Meanwhile, the FMS has to supply 130,000 refugees from Chechnya with housing. -- Constantine Dmitriev NEW TAX CHIEF. President Yeltsin replaced the director of the State Tax Service, Vladimir Gusev, with First Deputy Finance Minister Vitalii Artyukhov on 12 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Artyukhov will also assume the rank of deputy prime minister, of which there are currently seven. Born in 1944, Artyukhov graduated from a mechanics institute and worked in urban transport and the Automobile Ministry for 20 years. From 1988- 91 he was deputy head of the financial department of the Supreme Soviet, and then first deputy transport minister, until his appointment to the Finance Ministry in January 1995. Russian Public TV (ORT) reported that Gusev will stay on as Artyukhov's deputy. -- Peter Rutland REASONS FOR GUSEV'S REMOVAL. Gusev's removal is presumably connected to the fact that budget receipts for the first two months of this year were only one third of the planned level (OMRI Daily Digest. 29 February 1996). Part of the problem is the persistence of special tax breaks, which Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov estimated will cost the budget 20 trillion rubles ($4.1 billion) in lost revenue this year, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 6 March. A leading beneficiary of such privileges is the monopoly Gazprom, which is allowed to place some of its profits into a tax-exempt investment fund. On 11 March, the Duma unanimously approved a bill removing all of Gazprom's tax privileges, Kommersant-Daily reported. A similar measure was introduced by Russia's Choice deputies in October 1995, but it made no progress because deputies could not pinpoint exactly what tax privileges Gazprom enjoys. -- Peter Rutland EFFORT TO FREEZE FUEL PRICES FOR FARMERS. One of Russia's largest oil companies, YUKOS, and Menatep bank will cooperate with the government's program to keep fuel prices for farmers unchanged during the spring sowing season, Segodnya and ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. They will create a new financial-industrial group, Agropromresurs, to supply fuel to farms in nine provinces of European Russia. YUKOS earlier announced plans to raise fuel prices by 17-25% to offset increases in depreciation charges and property tax due to the mandatory reevaluation of the industry's assets. The government subsequently agreed to postpone the revaluation until the summer; hence YUKOS's cooperation in the farm program. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN LANGUAGE GIVEN OFFICIAL STATUS IN KYRGYZSTAN. Kyrgyzstan's parliament, the Jogorku Kengesh, has passed a proposal granting the Russian language official status in the republic, RFE/RL reported on 11 March. The issue now goes before the Kyrgyz Constitutional Court, but the court's approval is seen as only a formality. While the Kyrgyz constitution guarantees the right of people to use their own language in the country, the acceptance of Russian as an official language has been a sensitive issue. The government wants to emphasize its independence from Moscow but cannot afford to alienate the republic's Russian- speaking population, who make up the bulk of the country's skilled workforce. -- Bruce Pannier [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. 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 ----=_Wednesday, March 13, 1996 3:37 PM--
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