Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise. - Sigmund Freud
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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
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              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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