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No. 59, Part I, 22 March 1996
************************************************************************ Do you need sharply focused economic news? OMRI's weekly Economic Digest provides thorough coverage of business and financial developments throughout the region. The most recent edition includes stories on Poland's easing of restrictions on foreigners' economic activity; the Romanian National Bank penalizing five other banks and what a new civil code will mean for interest rates in Russia. For subscription and rate information, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org *********************************************************************** New OMRI Analytical Briefs: - "The New Day", by Bruce Pannier - "Christopher Allays (Some) East European Fears", by Steve Kettle - "Albanian Political Row as Elections Loom", by Fabian Schmidt - "Demirel's Middle East Tour: Turco-Israeli Relations Warm, Turco-Arab Relations Cold", by Lowell Bezanis - "Bulgarian Coal Miners Strike", by Stefan Krause - "Slovakia's Schizophrenic Relations with NATO", by Sharon Fisher - "Hungary Maintains a Firm Position on NATO Membership", by Zsofia Szilagyi 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ YELTSIN AIDE HINTS ELECTION COULD BE POSTPONED. President Yeltsin's top legal adviser, Mikhail Krasnov, did not rule out the possibility that presidential elections scheduled for June could be postponed if "a crisis emerges in the country," Russian media reported on 21 March. A legal expert for the Constitutional Court speculated that the Federation Council, which is empowered to set presidential elections, might also have the right to postpone them in a "crisis situation," but this is a gray area since the Duma has never passed a federal constitutional law on emergency situations, Radio Rossii reported. -- Laura Belin ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT "UNOBJECTIVE COVERAGE" ON STATE TELEVISION. The State Duma has invited Russian Public TV (ORT) Director-General Sergei Blagovolin and Russian TV Chairman Eduard Sagalaev to discuss the problem of "unobjective coverage of the parliament's activities" on the nation's top two television channels at a 22 March Duma session, Russian media reported on 21 March. News coverage on the 51% state-owned Channel 1 broadcaster ORT is considered generally pro-government. The fully state-owned Channel 2 broadcaster Russian TV has been considered more neutral in the past, but some have charged that it has become more slanted toward the executive since President Yeltsin replaced the station's chairman, Oleg Poptsov, with Sagalaev in February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 February 1996). -- Laura Belin ZHIRINOVSKY'S PARTY LOSES ANOTHER LEADING MEMBER. Aleksandr Vengerovskii, the chairman of the Duma subcommittee on foreign intelligence activities, announced that he is voluntarily leaving Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. He did not give a reason for his departure. Before the December elections, Vengerovskii was one of five deputy speakers in the Duma and held the title of LDPR deputy chairman. In early 1994, the LDPR lost Duma Deputy Viktor Kobelev, Zhirinovsky's 1993 campaign manager. Then-chairman of the Geopolitics Committee Viktor Ustinov left the LDPR in early 1995. -- Laura Belin GORBACHEV FORMALLY ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID. Mikhail Gorbachev formally announced that he was running for president in St. Petersburg on 21 March, Russian and Western media reported. Gorbachev discounted his very low ratings in opinion polls, saying more than a million signatures have been collected supporting his candidacy. He said voters need a third option besides President Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and he did not rule out cooperation with the so- called "third force" group of eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov, Aleksandr Lebed, and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN SLAMS MINIMUM WAGE HIKE. President Yeltsin described the Duma's 20 March decision to raise the minimum wage by 20% as of 1 April as "an undisguised populist step," Russian agencies reported on 21 March. Presidential press secretary Sergei Medvedev said that such an increase would undermine efforts to pay off wage arrears--one of Yeltsin's main pre-election promises. The government estimates that the raise would cost the budget an additional 643 billion rubles ($128 million). Medvedev said Yeltsin might not veto the bill but simply send it back to the Duma on the grounds that financial questions must be discussed with the government before being voted on in the parliament. -- Penny Morvant CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS IN DAGESTAN. A constitutional crisis has broken out in Dagestan over a parliament decision to extend the term in office of the State Council--the highest executive body in the republic--by another two years, Radio Mayak and Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 March. Dagestan's constitution does not allow for any extensions of executive terms in office. The Constitutional Court, however, ruled that the decision was constitutional. Several organizations held protest rallies in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala, while the chairman of the Union of Russia's Muslims, Nadir Khachilaev, announced that his group now opposes the present leadership of Dagestan. Khachilaev said the State Council is composed of former Communist Party nomenklatura and must be reformed. The parliament intends to amend the constitution in order to overcome the crisis. -- Anna Paretskaya RUSSIAN COSSACKS TO SUPPORT YELTSIN FOR RE-ELECTION. Cossack unit leaders have called on their subordinates to back President Yeltsin in the June presidential election, Russian TV reported on 21 March. Sergei Dontsov, a member of the presidential Council on Cossack Affairs, Sergei Dontsov, said he was sure that the Cossack electorate, numbering 5-7 million people, will cast their votes for Yeltsin since he helped restore the Cossacks as a social group. On the same day, thirteen of the 78 presidential candidates declared so far--all marginal figures--threw their support behind President Yeltsin to create a "united front" for "constructive forces," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Anna Paretskaya YELTSIN MEETS NATO GENERAL SECRETARY. Javier Solana met with President Yeltsin, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 21 March to discuss NATO-Russia cooperation and the possible eastward expansion of the alliance, Russian and Western media reported. Yeltsin struck a tough stance, saying that Primakov had previously expressed Russian objections to NATO enlargement "too mildly," and promising "to more harshly formulate our position." Solana subsequently admitted that two days of talks in Moscow had not produced any softening of Russian opposition to NATO's plans to accept new members, although he said Russia had agreed to an individual participation plan for 1996 under NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He reiterated that enlargement would proceed despite Russian protests. -- Scott Parrish DUMA CHAIRMAN BLASTS CHRISTOPHER. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev attacked U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's criticism of the Duma resolutions denouncing the Belavezha accords, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 March. Seleznev said that Christopher, who on a recent visit to Kyiv termed the Duma resolutions "highly irresponsible" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 March 1996), had "crudely interfered in the internal affairs of Russia." He added that the Duma would on 22 March consider a resolution censuring Christopher, who on 21 March arrived in Moscow for an official visit and a meeting of the international Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia. Seleznev announced that the Duma had postponed its reconsideration of the resolutions until sometime in early April. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA WILL TRAIN IRANIAN NUCLEAR SPECIALISTS. Russia will soon sign a contract to train Iranian nuclear specialists at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 March. Andrei Gagarinskii, an institute spokesman, told ITAR-TASS the contract provides for the training of several dozen Iranian technicians in the operation of the planned VVER-1000 reactor which Russia is constructing at Bushehr, in southern Iran. The Bushehr project, where preliminary construction is already underway, will be among the topics raised by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during his two-day visit to Moscow beginning on 21 March. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN SIGNS DECREE ON SPRING DRAFT. President Yeltsin launched the spring draft with a call for 200,000 Russian citizens, born between 1969 and 1978, to be inducted into the armed forces in April-June 1996, NTV reported on 21 March. Meanwhile, draft-dodging remains a serious problem which has grown worse due to the unpopular Chechen conflict. The acting military commissar of Moscow, Viktor Bespalchikov, admitted that 5,500 Muscovites attempted to evade the draft during 1995 and only about 10,000 conscripts were drafted from Moscow that year, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. Bespalchikov also expressed concern that every third draftee was not medically fit for military service. -- Constantine Dmitriev RUSSIAN ARMY DESTROYS ITSELF IN CHECHNYA. Moskovskie Novosti on 21 March contended that the Russian army in Chechnya has reached a point of "complete disintegration," and described Russian soldiers there as spending most of their time in a drug or alcohol-induced haze. The article reported "fragging" incidents where soldiers shot superior officers who attempted to discipline them. It also charged that bribery and corruption were rampant among federal troops in the republic. Meanwhile, on 22 March the North Caucasus military district commander, Col. Gen. Anatolii Kvashnin, told ITAR-TASS that a high-ranking federal commander in Chechnya has been arrested on charges of "criminal connections with Chechen separatists." -- Doug Clarke and Constantine Dmitriev ATTEMPT ON LIFE OF STAVROPOL DEPUTY MILITARY COMMISSAR. Colonel Andrei Yanenko, deputy military commissar in Stavropol Krai, was seriously injured on 21 March when a bomb went off in his car, ITAR-TASS reported. Local police said it was too early to say whether the attack on Yanenko was connected with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's threats to carry out further terrorist attacks in Russia. Stavropol Krai has been the site of numerous terrorist attacks in recent years, including the Budennovsk hostage crisis. -- Penny Morvant MiG-MAPO EQUIPS TRAINING PLANES WITH FRENCH ENGINES. The MiG-MAPO design bureau has started test flights of its new training-fighter Mig-AT, equipped with jet engines produced by the French "Snecma" corporation, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 21 March. Russian military experts say that South Africa, India, the U.S., and other countries may be interested in the new $12 million aircraft. In addition to possible exports, the Russian Defense Ministry also plans to replace its aging fleet of L-29 and L-39 Czech-made trainers with the new MiG-AT planes. -- Constantine Dmitriev PROTECTION FOR DEPOSITORS AND INVESTORS. President Yeltsin ordered federal agencies on 21 March to come up with concrete proposals to protect depositors and investors within two months, Radio Rossii reported. The same day, Pavel Medvedev, chair of the Duma sub-committee on bank legislation, said that steps will soon be taken to create a federal depositor insurance fund, ITAR-TASS reported. In November 1995, the Duma passed legislation on the compulsory insurance of bank deposits, but Yeltsin declined to sign it into law. The plan is for depositors to receive 90% compensation, up to a sum equal to 250 times the minimum wage (about 19 million rubles, or $3,750). Sberbank, which holds 70% of personal savings, is not involved, since its deposits are already guaranteed by the state. -- Peter Rutland CONCERN OVER FOOD SUPPLIES. On 20 March, the Federation Council discussed the alleged threat to Russia's "food security" posed by the growing dependence on imported food, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported. Yevgenii Savchenko, the chair of the council's Agricultural Policy Committee, estimated that more than one third of Russia's food needs were met by imports in 1995. According to ITAR-TASS of 20 March, agricultural subsidies in 1995 amounted to 6.7 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion) from the federal budget and 14 trillion from local budgets, roughly equal to 7.5% of total farm revenue. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vladimir Shcherbak said his ministry is hoping for 13.2 trillion from the federal budget in 1996. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ABKHAZ LEADER SUPPORTS RESTORATION OF USSR. Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba declared that Abkhazia would support the restoration of the former USSR, provided this did not mean Abkhazia's return into Georgia, Iberia news agency reported on 19 March. Ardzinba said the Abkhaz people had been against the break-up of the Soviet Union and have done everything in their power to keep it. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz parliament is scheduled to convene for an emergency session on 22 March to demand the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Abkhazia, Russian media reported on 21 March. Parliament Speaker Sokrat Dzhindzholia said the session has been called in reaction to a decision by Russia and Georgia to subject all Sukhumi bound ships to customs and border controls in the Georgian port of Poti. -- Irakli Tsereteli NEW STOCK EXCHANGE TO OPEN IN UZBEKISTAN. Uzbekistan is preparing to open a stock exchange in the capital Tashkent, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. The refurbished former Svetlov concert hall in the center of the city will be home to a securities exchange, real estate traders, the national investment fund, and the national securities depository. There are 80 offices for brokers, 12 with computer links to Uzbekistan's oblast centers, and a satellite link. The exchange is reportedly the first of its kind in the CIS. -- Bruce Pannier CIS MUSLIMS WELCOME THE NEW YEAR. Muslims in the republics of the CIS celebrated the beginning of the Islamic New Year, Nawruz, on 21 March. Azerbaijan was the exception, marking the event on 20 March, according to Turan. The day is timed to coincide with the first day of spring and typically features national games and performances of folk songs by national troupes. The holiday was among the first officially reinstated by the governments of the largely Muslim republics in Central Asia and Azerbaijan after becoming independent in 1991. -- 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. 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