|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
No. 90, Part I, 09 May 1996
This is Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. Part I is a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II, covering Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of the Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html RUSSIA HEAD OF MOSCOW MILITARY DISTRICT WANTS ELECTION TO BE POSTPONED. Moscow Military District commander Col. Gen. Leontii Kuznetsov declared that in his view the forthcoming presidential election should be postponed, Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 May. Kuznetsov argued that the vote would undermine social stability and "split the Russian population into two camps." He added that if the opposition comes to power, it will merely "settle scores instead of changing the political course." Kuznetsov said many officers in the Moscow Military District share this view. -- Constantine Dmitriev YAVLINSKII MAY STRIKE A DEAL WITH YELTSIN. Grigorii Yavlinskii on 7 May tried to downplay the possibility of an alliance with Boris Yeltsin, saying that the two had to resolve numerous difficult problems, including Chechnya, economic and social policy, and most importantly, personnel questions, Russian TV (RTR) reported. However, on 8 May he said that he was willing to discuss with Yeltsin the possibility of uniting the democratic candidates, Radio Rossii reported. Yavlinskii wants to be the prime minister, but Yeltsin is only prepared to offer him a deputy prime ministerial position, according to Kommersant-Daily on 7 May. Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov said that the negotiations "are not a surprise" and that they will end Yavlinskii's career since people will cease to trust him, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung THIRD FORCE UNRAVELS. The abortive "third force" alliance of Grigorii Yavlinskii, Aleksandr Lebed, and Svyatoslav Fedorov seems to have suffered a fatal blow. Fedorov, eye surgeon and leader of the Party of Workers' Self-Government, said he will not withdraw his presidential candidacy, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. Fedorov advocates what he calls "popular socialism," in which workers would manage their own enterprises. Fedorov added that if Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov were elected president, he might be willing to accept the post of prime minister. Lebed announced earlier this week that he would not drop out of the race in favor of Yavlinskii. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN SCOLDS GOVERNMENT FOR PAYMENT ARREARS. President Yeltsin on 8 May sharply criticized the government and Pension Fund for failing to ensure the timely payment of wages and pensions despite direct instructions from his office, Radio Rossii reported. The previous day, Pension Fund head Vasilii Barchuk blamed delays on the government's failure to pay its debt to the fund, which he said totals 4.6 trillion rubles for the period 1992-1995 alone. Following the March clampdown on wage arrears, Yeltsin ordered the elimination of all pension arrears by the end of April--a goal that has clearly not been met. -- Penny Morvant GOVERNMENT TRIES TO WIN OVER REGIONAL JOURNALISTS. The government's new regional press agency organized a 6-7 May seminar for 80 television and 60 radio journalists, scheduling meetings with high government officials and paying all their travel and living expenses, according to the latest edition of Moskovskie novosti. President Yeltsin told the journalists, "I am not calling on you to campaign on behalf of candidate Yeltsin, but I expect from you a responsible attitude toward what is happening in Russia," Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 6 May. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov promised that his office will pay special attention to protecting journalists' rights in cases when the victim of a crime, or the accused, is a journalist. On 7 May, State Press Committee Chairman Ivan Laptev advised the journalists on obtaining tax and customs privileges guaranteed under the law on state support for the mass media, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN'S CHECHEN TRIP IN JEOPARDY? Russian President Boris Yeltsin's planned visit to Chechnya is "impossible" at present because of security considerations, Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov told Interfax in a report cited by AFP on 8 May. On 7 May federal forces captured the village of Goyskoe, which has been the scene of fighting for several weeks. The same day Russian helicopters launched a rocket attack on the raion center of Urus Martan, killing five people in the open-air market; the Chechen procuracy has begun an investigation. As of 9 May, the town had been sealed off by Russian troops, according to AFP. Machine gun fire hit the Grozny home of Chechen Interior Minister Hamid Inalov during the night of 7-8 May, but no one was injured, according to ITAR- TASS. On 3 May, Inalov's car was fired on in Urus Martan. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIA, BRITAIN LOOK FOR RESOLUTION OF SPY SCANDAL. Russia and Britain appear to be seeking a way to back down from confrontation over the espionage incident (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 May 1996) that has triggered the threatened expulsion from Russia of nine British diplomats, Russian and Western agencies reported on 8 May. Reuters reported that talks are now focusing on the timing and scale of the diplomats' expulsions. British Ambassador Andrew Wood met with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 7 May to discuss the issue. British Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind has insisted that Russia has not substantiated its claim that the nine British embassy staff are intelligence agents. Meanwhile, the unidentified Russian whose arrest started the affair has been charged with treason under Article 64 of the Russian Criminal Code, and could face the death penalty. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA SIGNS INTERNATIONAL NUCLEAR LIABILITY CONVENTION. Russia signed the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage in a ceremony at the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. The convention, which was never signed by the Soviet Union, is part of the international regime regulating third-party liability for damage resulting from civilian nuclear accidents. Under the convention, primary liability for damage resulting from a nuclear reactor accident rests on the country operating the reactor. -- Scott Parrish TURKEY, RUSSIA SPAR OVER PIPELINE, STRAITS. Turkish Foreign Minister Emre Gonensay announced Turkey's willingness to fully finance a pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil to its Mediterranean port of Ceyhan and threatened to institute safety measures governing the passage of ships through the Bosporus Strait if Russia tries to transport oil through it. Such measures were adopted in 1994 and it is not clear if Gonensay's remarks imply new measures or a stricter application of existing ones. Russia officially termed Turkey's position "unacceptable," saying that the new regulations are a violation of the 1936 Montreux Treaty, and insisting that Turkey adopt a "modern" navigation system to ensure that oil spills are avoided, Russian media reported. Gonensay's remarks reflect Turkey's discomfort with the reallocation of shares in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium last week, which gave Russia a 44% share in the project to move Tengiz oil to the Russian port of Novorossiisk. -- Lowell Bezanis NUCLEAR SMUGGLING ALLEGATIONS REFUTED. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Krasnoyarsk said on 8 May that the scientist arrested the previous day in connection with the theft of nuclear materials was not selling plutonium or any other fissionable material, ITAR-TASS reported. Contradicting earlier reports, the FSB denied that the stolen material was radioactive, adding that it was very hard and heat resistant and could be used to coat ballistic missiles as well as for civilian purposes. -- Penny Morvant CANNIBAL KILLS AGAIN. A Russian prisoner on death row murdered a fellow inmate in a jail in Barnaul in Altai Krai and tried to make soup out of his liver, Reuters reported on 8 May, citing Interfax. Last July, the cannibal, Aleksandr Maslich, murdered another fellow prisoner and ate some of his internal organs. Maslich was convicted on triple murder charges in 1993 and sentenced to death last year. -- Penny Morvant MORE HELP FOR DEFENSE PLANTS. President Yeltsin issued a decree on 8 May raising the status of the State Committee on Defense Industry, headed by Zinovii Pak, to a government ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. He also instructed the Finance Ministry to pay off state debts to defense plants, exempted them from paying taxes until this is done, and promised help with energy bills. Pak said that about one third of defense plants are fully state owned, one third are fully privatized, and in one third the state owns shares. The government now intends to buy back shares in some of the privatized defense plants. Last month, a new Federal Commission on Defense Plant Privatization was created under First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets to monitor defense privatization. -- Peter Rutland PENSION FUND OWED 23 TRILLION RUBLES. Social Security Minister Lyudmila Bezlepkina told a government meeting on 7 May that enterprises owe the Pension Fund 23 trillion rubles ($4.6 billion), Rossiiskie vesti reported. She said that last year the Russian government spent $500 million of the state's gold and currency reserves on pensions, but payments were still delayed by about 20 to 30 days in many parts of the country. Only about half the country's 89 republics and regions have received funds for this April's pensions. Bezlepkina said that responsibility for collecting contributions from enterprises should be transferred to the State Tax Service. Russia has 37 million pensioners. -- Penny Morvant BANK STATISTICS. The Central Bank has now withdraw licenses from 320 of Russia's 2,599 commercial banks, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. Another 465 banks have been warned for violating banking regulations. The banks have a total equity capital of 13 trillion rubles ($2.6 billion), but only 5% of banks have equity capital over 20 billion rubles. General licenses were given to 260 banks, 790 banks have licenses for dealing with foreign currency, and 205 for operations with precious metals. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRESIDENT SNUBS SELEZNEV. After staying one day longer than planned in China, Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan stopped off in Moscow on 7 May for talks on bilateral relations and the Karabakh conflict with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is to visit Yerevan later this month, Russian media reported. Ter-Petrossyan said it would be "neither wise nor advantageous" for Armenia to join the CIS Customs Union at present, according to RFE/RL. Meanwhile, a Russian State Duma delegation led by Speaker Gennadii Seleznev was in Armenia for a two-day visit to meet with Armenian National Assembly Chairman Babken Ararktsyan and Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan. The issue of Karabakh was not on the agenda since in a previous interview with an Azerbaijani journalist Seleznev had accused Armenia of "aggression," Noyan Tapan reported. -- Liz Fuller PRIMAKOV'S KARABAKH DIPLOMACY. Russia Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov traveled to Baku and then Yerevan on 8 May on what he termed "direct instructions from President Boris Yeltsin" in an attempt to achieve at least minimal progress toward a political solution of the Karabakh conflict, Russian and Western media reported. Following an agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the leadership of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh on an exchange of all prisoners of war, Primakov brought 34 former Armenian prisoners and one ethnic Russian to Yerevan; in exchange, Armenia is to release 11 Azerbaijanis, and Karabakh Armenian authorities a further 59. -- Liz Fuller DEMIREL IN UZBEKISTAN. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel concluded a three-day official visit to Tashkent on 9 May during which he signed agreements on "eternal friendship and cooperation," environmental protection, and double taxation with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, ITAR-TASS reported. In 1995, Turkish-Uzbek trade was valued at $280 million, a 75% increase over the previous year, and involves more than 200 joint ventures. This was Demirel's first visit to Uzbekistan as Turkish president; Turgut Ozal visited in 1993. -- Roger Kangas COCA-COLA EXPANDS PRODUCTION IN CENTRAL ASIA, TRANSCAUCASUS. The Coca- Cola Company announced that it will invest an additional $200 million into the region over the next three years, RFE/RL reported on 8 May. Calling it the "next frontier opportunity for soft drinks," Neville Isdell, president of the company's Greater Europe Group, announced the opening of a $15 million bottling plant in Almaty, Kazakhstan, as part of a joint venture with the Turkish Anadolu Group and the Kazakhstani bottler ToNus. Plants will also open in Bishkek and Tashkent at the cost of $16 million and $10 million, respectively. Plans are being drawn up for similar plants in Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. The company already has plants operating in the Georgian capital Tbilisi (opened in June 1993) and one in Tashkent (opened March 1994). -- Roger Kangas CHANGES IN KAZAKHSTANI GOVERNMENT. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 8 May promoted Trade and Industry Minister Garri Shtoik to the post of first deputy prime minister, RFE/RL and Reuters reported. Shtoik replaces Vitalii Mette, who left office recently. The choice of one ethnic German to replace another may not be coincidental as Almaty appears anxious to have a German presence in the government. Kazakhstan's sizable German population has the attention and support of the German government. Nazarbayev also promoted Stepan Shutkin to the post of head of the government apparatus. -- Bruce Pannier VIOLENCE CONTINUES IN TAJIKISTAN. Border guards near the Tajik city of Khorog killed eight alleged rebels who were attempting to cross over from Afghanistan, Russian TV (RTR) and Reuters reported on 8 May. The "rebels" were using a route known to be a drug highway from Afghanistan to destinations in the former Soviet Union and Europe. In the capital, Dushanbe, Lt. Gen. Kurbon Cholov survived an assassination attempt in his apartment on 7 May, according to ITAR-TASS. Gunmen using grenade launchers and small arms fired upon the apartment killing Cholov's chief of staff and wounding another officer, but Cholov was uninjured. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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