|Be slow of tongue and quick of eye. - Cervantes|
No. 103, Part I, 28 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 NEW CHECHEN CEASEFIRE AGREEMENT. President Boris Yeltsin flew to Grozny on 28 May to meet with local residents and Russian troops, AFP reported. The day before, Yeltsin initialled an agreement signed by acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on a complete ceasefire beginning at midnight on 31 May. The two also signed an agreement on the release within two weeks of all hostages and other persons forcibly detained, Russian media reported. The ceasefire is based on the 30 July 1995 demilitarization agreement. The issue of Chechnya's future status vis-a-vis the Russian Federation was not raised, but ITAR-TASS on 27 May quoted the head of the Russian presidential commission on federation power-sharing, Sergei Shakhrai, as saying that a document has been prepared that gives Chechnya "a series of special powers within the context of the Russian Federation." The Chechen delegation is to continue talks in Moscow with members of the Russian government commission on Chechnya. -- Liz Fuller ZYUGANOV CAMPAIGNS IN SOUTH. . . Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov took his campaign to the southern region of Rostov Oblast, Russian media reported on 27 May. In Rostov-na-Donu, he issued a statement promising to implement programs to benefit Cossacks if elected president, ITAR-TASS reported. He also told a group of about 8,000 in the mining village of Novoshakhtinsk that he would increase state support for miners and guarantee all citizens the right to work, rest, and housing. This is Zyuganov's penultimate campaign trip before the first round of the presidential election. In early June, he will visit several regions in Siberia. -- Laura Belin . . .AS TV COVERAGE STRESSES THE NEGATIVE. Zyuganov's party is traditionally strong in the south, and the KPRF received about 27% of the vote in Rostov Oblast in the December 1995 parliamentary election. However, the bulk of Russian television coverage of Zyuganov's 27 May trip was devoted to anti-Communist protesters. Russian Public TV (ORT) did not report Zyuganov's promises to Cossacks but mentioned Cossacks who picketed the KPRF leader. Russian TV (RTR) reported that pickets greeted Zyuganov at every event of the day and blocked the entry road to Novocherkassk. NTV, Russia's most influential private network, also led with the pickets, quoting one who recalled a massacre at a workers' demonstration in 1962, at which at least eight people were killed. NTV closed its report by mentioning that unlike Yeltsin, Zyuganov is a poor improviser on the campaign trail, and "in the coming days he will hardly be able to tell voters anything new." Hecklers at Yeltsin rallies are rarely, if ever, shown on national television. -- Laura Belin NIZHNII NOVGOROD LEADERS URGE VOTERS TO BACK YELTSIN. Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov and Nizhnii Novgorod Mayor Ivan Sklyarov signed an appeal calling on residents of their region to back President Yeltsin in June as a guarantor of stability, RTR and Radio Rossii reported on 27 May. Russia needs a president who stands above political parties, and all votes cast for representatives of a "third force" will work to Gennadii Zyuganov's advantage, the document asserted. The appeal is mainly aimed at pro-reform voters, traditionally strong in the region's capital, who might be inclined to support Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii in the first round of the presidential election. Yavlinskii helped draft the economic reform program Nemtsov implemented in Nizhnii Novgorod in 1992. In the December 1995 Duma elections, the Communist Party finished first in the region with about 18% of the vote, Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia came in second with 12%, and Yabloko and the pro-government Our Home Is Russia each received about 10%. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN SIGNS LAW ON MINIMUM PENSION. President Yeltsin on 27 May signed a bill raising the minimum pension by 10% to 69,575 rubles ($14) a month as of 1 May, Ekho Moskvy reported. The bill was passed by the Duma on 17 April and the Federation Council on 15 May. Deputies had earlier sought to increase pensions by 20% but agreed to the smaller increase after Yeltsin signed a decree doubling compensation payments for those on the minimum pension. -- Penny Morvant MORE POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS SIGNED. At a Kremlin ceremony on 27 May, President Yeltsin signed two power-sharing agreements: one with Irkutsk Oblast and the Ust-Orda Buryat Autonomous Okrug (AO), and a another with the Republic of Chuvashiya, Russian media reported. Yeltsin hailed the trilateral agreement with Irkutsk Oblast and the Ust-Orda Buryat AO as unique among the 14 similar agreements that the federal government has signed with other constituent members of the Russian Federation. It outlines the division of powers and responsibilities between Moscow, Irkutsk, and the Ust-Orda Buryat AO, located within Irkutsk Oblast. Posturing as the builder of a new, stronger Russian state, Yeltsin argued that the power sharing agreements had already proven themselves as the basis of a new federalism in Russia, which he said was based on the principle of giving the regions "the kind of independence which they can handle...within the framework of the constitution." -- Scott Parrish RUSSIAN PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION IN NORTH KOREA. A delegation led by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev met with Yang Hyong-sop, chairman of the North Korean Supreme People's Assembly, and other leading North Korean officials on 27 May, Russian media reported. Seleznev will not, however, be received by reclusive North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. The Duma speaker expressed satisfaction with improving bilateral ties but added that further development of cooperation requires not only good will, but progress on issues like North Korea's debt to Russia. Tightly controlling media coverage, North Korea refused entry visas to journalists from ITAR-TASS, Interfax, and RIA-Novosti who asked to accompany Seleznev, although it granted one to a correspondent from the pro-communist newspaper Pravda. In February, Pyongyang slammed ITAR-TASS for its coverage of a hostage-taking incident at the Russian embassy (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 February 1996). -- Scott Parrish U.S. BUSINESSMAN DENIES ESPIONAGE CHARGES. Richard Oppfelt, the U.S. businessman whom the Federal Security Service (FSB) accused of espionage and claimed to have expelled from Kamchatka on 10 May (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 and 14 May 1996) has denied the FSB allegations, AFP reported on 27 May. Oppfelt said that while in Kamchatka, he and a Russian naval officer discussed the possible conversion of a decommissioned naval base into a commercial fishing plant. The FSB, he added, later used a tape of these business discussions to attempt to browbeat him into confessing to espionage. Oppfelt was later released after refusing to confess. A spokesperson for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow said it has "no reason" to believe Oppfelt was spying, and has requested a clarification of the incident from the Russian government. -- Scott Parrish ARMY LEARNING LESSONS FROM CHECHEN WAR. The Russian Army has been undergoing a critical re-evaluation of its hardware in light of its experiences in Chechnya, according to Ogonek no. 21. At a recent meeting in Khankal, the head of the Defense Ministry's armor section, Col. Gen. Aleksandr Galkin, said that 225 of the 2,221 armored vehicles sent into action were destroyed in the first 45 days of the war, including 62 tanks. This does not include vehicles that were damaged and subsequently repaired. In response to these high losses, a conference in February 1995 ordered emergency measures, including the fitting of reactive armor to the sides of tanks. The article concluded: "On the one hand, industry is supplying the army with bad technology, on the other, the army does not know how to use it." -- Peter Rutland TEACHERS ON STRIKE IN BURYATIYA. Teachers at a majority of schools in Ulan-Ude, the capital of Buryatiya, went on strike on 27 May, ITAR-TASS reported. They are seeking the payment of back wages and assurances that their holiday pay will be disbursed on time and are threatening to cancel graduation exams if their demands are not met. The republican authorities are waiting for 248 billion rubles ($49.6 million) in federal subsidies to cover the holiday pay. A local union representative said that teachers refrained from disrupting exams last year after they were assured payment would soon be forthcoming; however, they did not receive all their holiday money until the start of the new school year. Teachers throughout Russia have repeatedly protested against wage arrears and low federal funding of education. -- Penny Morvant CONSTITUTIONAL COURT BEGINS REVIEW OF ORGANIZED CRIME DECREE. The Constitutional Court began on 27 May to review the legality of one of the articles of President Yeltsin's controversial June 1994 decree on organized crime, ITAR-TASS reported. Through his lawyer, the plaintiff, Valerii Shchelukhin, argues that the provisions on "collecting evidence against those suspected of belonging to a criminal group without the institution of criminal proceedings" and permitting suspects to be held for up to 30 hours without charges are unconstitutional and violate human rights. Shchelukhin, who is currently being held in a pre-trial detention center, is also contesting the constitutionality of the clause in the Criminal Procedures Code that excludes the time the accused spends studying the case against him from calculations of the period of detention. This, he argues, allows preliminary detention to be extended at the whim of investigators, Ekspress-khronikha reported. -- Penny Morvant CRIMES AGAINST THE ENVIRONMENT INCREASING. Participants in the All- Russian Conference on the Struggle against Ecological Crimes, held in Moscow on 27 May, noted a sharp increase in the number of crimes against the environment and were critical of the measures taken against offenders. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zaveryukha said 5,800 cases related to the environment were examined in 1995, up 57% on 1994, ITAR- TASS reported. However, according to Deputy Supreme Court Chairman Anatolii Merkushov, only three of the 20 articles in the Criminal Code covering crimes against the environment are used in practice--those on illegal hunting, fishing, and tree-felling; over the past five years, no more than 10 people have been convicted of more serious crimes, such as air and water pollution and illegal use of radioactive materials. -- Penny Morvant GOVERNMENT IS EVADING IMF BUDGET RULES. Oksana Dmitrieva, the head of the Duma budget subcommittee, detailed some of the ways in which the government is getting around IMF restrictions on the budget deficit in Finansovye izvestiya on 28 May. She claimed that a $2 billion German loan had been shifted from March to April in order to "lower" the first quarter deficit from 28 trillion rubles ($5.6 billion, or 5.5% of GDP) to 17 trillion. Second, under a new "clearing" procedure, instead of paying taxes firms are allowed to ship goods to other companies who are owed money by the government. The IMF limited such "taxes in kind" to 9 trillion rubles for 1996, but 16 trillion rubles have already been allowed, the government claiming that these "taxes" fall under the 1995 budget. Third, the Finance Ministry is evading IMF limits on direct borrowing from commercial banks by issuing government guarantees to firms, allowing them instead to borrow from banks to pay taxes. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA FOUR-PARTY INTER-PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY TO BE ESTABLISHED. The CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (MPA) met in Bishkek on 28 May to discuss the ongoing crisis in Tajikistan and ways to assist Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, ITAR-TASS reported. In addition, Russian Federation Council and MPA Chairman Yegor Stroev said that the representatives from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus will form a separate MPA based on their 29 March Quadripartite Agreement. RTR reported that Stroev also met with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov to discuss bilateral relations. Meanwhile, Uzbek President Islam Karimov, on an official visit to Baku, told RFE/RL on 27 May that any efforts to create "new alliances" run counter to the goals of the CIS. -- Roger Kangas DARK CLOUDS OVER TURKISH RESTORATION PROJECT IN KAZAKHSTAN. A high- profile project to restore the tomb of the 12th-century Sufi mystic, Ahmet Yassawiy, in Turkistan, Kazakhstan, has gone awry, the Turkish paper Cumhuriyet reported on 27 May. A March 1995 report prepared by the inspectorate of the Prime Minister's Office uncovered a host of legal irregularities in connection with the project, but the problems were subsequently ignored for about one year. Some $2 million allocated by Turkey for the project are thought to have been misapproriated. The restoration, organized by the Turkey Foundations General Directorate, was only 20% complete six months after it was supposed to be entirely finished in September 1994. -- Lowell Bezanis DELEGATION ARRIVES IN TAJIKISTAN TO SEEK MISSING U.S. SERVICEMEN. A U.S. delegation headed by Malcolm Toon landed in Dushanbe on 27 May, ITAR- TASS and RFE/RL reported the same day. Toon has been making trips to former Soviet republics in order to gather information on U.S. servicemen who have been registered as missing in action since World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. Some of them are believed to have been taken to the USSR and forced to live in Soviet republics. In return, the U.S. has been giving the former Soviet republics information on Soviet servicemen reported missing in the Afghan War. -- 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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