|Nothing helps scenery like ham and eggs. - Mark Twain|
No. 138, Part I, 18 July 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 YELTSIN NAMES RODIONOV DEFENSE MINISTER. President Boris Yeltsin has named Col. Gen. Igor Rodionov to replace Pavel Grachev as defense minister, Russian media reported on 17 July. Known by some as the "Butcher of Tbilisi" because troops under his command killed some 20 peaceful demonstrators in the Georgian capital in 1989, Rodionov had been the commander of the prestigious Voroshilov Military Academy of the General Staff. He was the first choice of Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed. Rodionov said that his first task would be to "deal with 'hot spots' where our people are [being] killed," naming Chechnya, Tajikistan, and Bosnia. Then he said he would turn to military reform. Introducing Rodionov to the military's top brass at the Barvikha spa on 18 July, Yeltsin instructed the generals to transform the army into an all-volunteer force by the year 2000, ITAR-TASS reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 May 1996). -- Doug Clarke and Laura Belin REACTION TO RODIONOV APPOINTMENT. Politicians across the spectrum praised Rodionov as an honest professional, Russian media reported on 17 July. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, whose corruption allegations helped remove Gen. Konstantin Kobets from contention for the job, called Yeltsin's decision "exceptionally wise." Leading members of the Communist Party, including Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, and Veterans' Affairs Committee Chairman Valentin Varennikov also hailed the move. In addition, Russia's Democratic Choice (DVR) Duma deputy Eduard Vorobev, who quit the army in December 1994 rather than lead the storming of Grozny, praised Rodionov, but Yabloko Duma deputy Aleksei Arbatov said he believed there were better candidates for the job, and DVR member Sergei Yushenkov lamented that a civilian had not been named. Rodionov's appointment will strengthen Aleksandr Lebed's influence over security policy. It is also a typical balancing move for Yeltsin, who just appointed Anatolii Chubais to lead his administration (Chubais is likely to cross swords with Lebed). -- Laura Belin DUMA ASKS YELTSIN TO RENATIONALIZE ORT. Complaining of pro-Yeltsin bias on the Channel 1 broadcaster Russian Public TV (ORT), the State Duma passed a non-binding resolution asking the president to transform ORT from a closed joint-stock company to a state-owned network, Russian media reported on 17 July. ORT was partly privatized under a November 1994 presidential decree, but the state retained 51% of the company's shares. Several efforts by the Duma since then to reverse the restructuring have been blocked by President Yeltsin. Commenting on Vladimir Zhirinovsky's proposal to divide time on ORT equally among the president, government, and parliament, ORT Director-General Sergei Blagovolin told NTV that such a policy would drive viewers to drink out of boredom. On the same day, the Duma asked the government to instruct the Finance Ministry to distribute funds allocated under the 1996 budget to regional radio and television companies, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin UPPER HOUSE REJECTS TRANSFER OF POWER BILL. The Federation Council on 17 July rejected the Duma's draft of the bill on handing power over to a newly elected president, NTV reported. Council members did not like the bill's provision that the newly elected president could attend meetings of state institutions or have access to any documents he requested before being inaugurated. They argued that such rights would effectively bring about the transfer before the old president's term had expired. The Duma bill envisions the transfer of power from Yeltsin to a pro-communist president and is seeking to prevent the incumbent from making any last-minutes rulings that would weaken his successor. -- Robert Orttung UPPER HOUSE REJECTS TROPHY ART LAW. The Federation Council on 17 July voted down a law that would have effectively nationalized the vast majority of artworks seized by Soviet troops from Germany at the end of WW II, Russian and Western media reported. Two-thirds of Duma deputies had approved the legislation last week to the dismay of German officials--including Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who had said he would seek direct talks with President Yeltsin over the issue. Deputy Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said the Council rejected the legislation because it was "inconsistent with international standards and Russian legislation." He pointed to the Russian Civil Code, which provides for full compensation to former owners--in particular foreign individuals and organizations--for property confiscated by the state. At the same time, he stressed his ministry's position that trophy art will not be returned without compensation in kind. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel welcomed the Council's decision. -- Jan Cleave BELYAEV SEES POSSIBILITY OF EARLY DUMA ELECTION. Our Home Is Russia Duma faction leader Sergei Belyaev said that President Yeltsin could disband the Duma if it does not begin working on a legal basis for reform, ITAR-TASS reported 17 July. Belyaev charged that political debates often replace legislative work in the Duma Committees and on the floor "with the clear connivance" of Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. The Russian Regions factions has demanded that Seleznev account for the Duma's expenses, charging that the Duma is not paying its employees, reducing the number of hearings, failing to reimburse business trip expenses, and that its motorpool is practically paralyzed. Former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin charged that the money is being siphoned off to the Communist Party. -- Robert Orttung LEBED ATTENDS MEETING OF CHECHNYA COMMISSION. Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 17 July attended a session of the government commission to resolve the Chechen conflict for the first time, Russian and Western agencies reported. At the session, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin attributed the collapse of the ongoing peace talks to acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's lack of control over his field commanders. Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov and the commander of the Russian forces in Chechnya, Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, called for a resumption of peace talks with both Chechen factions, according to Reuters. Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Abdulla Bugaev accused the Russian troops of killing innocent civilians in Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Pro- Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev again called for the replacement of OSCE Chechnya mission head Tim Guldimann, alleging that he had both overstepped his powers and failed to discharge his duties. Meanwhile, Russian war planes launched massive air raids on villages in the southeastern raion of Shatoi during the night of 17- 18 July, AFP reported. -- Liz Fuller TATAR COMMUNISTS AND NATIONALISTS UNITE. Several Tatar Communist and nationalist organizations have merged together to create the Popular Patriotic Union of Tatarstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. The Tatar Communist Party, Party of National Independence "Ittifak," Tatar Youth Union "Azatlyk," and the republican branch of Sergei Baburin's Russian National Union have joined the new movement. The Communist Party secretary, Robert Sadykov, said the pro-independence nationalists and the Communists--who support a restoration of the USSR--were brought together by a common animosity toward the current regime. The new movement accuses the republican authorities of falsifying the presidential election results in Tatarstan. -- Anna Paretskaya KOVALEV MEETS GORE, PROTESTS CHECHEN FIGHTING. At the end of his Moscow visit, U.S. Vice President Al Gore met with veteran human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalev at Moscow's Central Hospital on 16 June, Radio Rossii reported the following day. Kovalev, who is recovering from a heart attack, expressed deep concern over the renewed heavy fighting in Chechnya, arguing that it is primarily the fault of the federal forces. Kovalev has written an open letter to President Yeltsin and Lebed protesting the fighting and accusing them of going back on their preelection promises to end the war, Reuters reported. The agency said the liberal daily Izvestiya had been due to publish the letter but then refused to do so. Gore pushed for a resumption of the ceasefire during his visit but refrained from criticizing President Yeltsin in public. -- Penny Morvant PRIMAKOV CHARGES HAGUE TRIBUNAL WITH BIAS. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 17 July accused the Hague war crimes tribunal for former Yugoslavia of lacking objectivity, Reuters reported. He also warned that arresting Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic on a warrant issued by the tribunal could undermine the Bosnian election planned for 14 September. Although Russia has complained that the majority of those indicted by the tribunal are Serbs, Primakov's statement was the first outright accusation of bias against the tribunal, whose creation Russia backed. -- Robert Orttung FAR EASTERN ENERGY CRISIS COULD THREATEN NATIONAL SECURITY. The Primorskii Krai administration has sent a letter to Lebed warning that the energy crisis in the Far East could endanger national security, Russian media reported on 17 July. The chief of staff of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, also warned that the crisis could result in power cuts to some strategic missile bases. (In September 1994, power was temporarily shut off to the missile forces' main command center near Moscow and later to their testing range at Plesetsk, because of the military's inability to pay its bills.) A Border Troop commander denied, however, that the alarm system on the Russian-Chinese border had been switched off, as earlier reported. In a move that should alleviate the situation temporarily, the Pacific Fleet announced that it will transfer more fuel oil to the krai from its reserves, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 July. -- Penny Morvant RUSSIA RATIFIES CURRENCY AGREEMENT WITH BELARUS. The State Duma and the Federation Council have ratified the currency agreement signed on 6 January 1995 by the Russian and Belarusian governments and national banks, ITAR-TASS and Kommersant-Daily reported on 13-17 July. The agreement calls for the unification of currency legislation in the two countries. It also stipulates that the Russian Central Bank and the National Bank of Belarus will have to provide regular exchange rate quotes for both currencies. The agreement allows companies and organizations from the two countries to carry out mutual payments either in Russian or Belarusian rubles, or in hard currencies. The measure is expected to boost bilateral trade. It remains to be seen, however, how the agreement will work in practice given the different pace of economic reforms in the two countries. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA IMF OFFERS $446 MILLION CREDIT TO KAZAKHSTAN. The IMF announced that it will extend a $446 million credit to Kazakhstan to support its three-year economic reform program, AFP reported on 17 July. The first $54 million installment is expected to be released later this year. The government's economic plan aims to reduce inflation from 60% in 1995 to 26% this year and less than 10% in 1998. The credit is also aimed at completing the privatization of government-owned industry and reforming the country's financial sector. -- Bhavna Dave KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA ASKED TO EXPLAIN VIEWS ON SOLZHENITSYN. An Almaty court has asked Komsomolskaya pravda to issue a public statement within a week to explain its views on the controversial article "Conversations with Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn" published in the newspaper's 23 April issue, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 July. The court's decision is seen as an attempt to steer a middle ground between the procurator-general and Kazakh writers who want the newspaper to be banned and the newspaper's editors who maintain that the publication of Solzhenitsyn's views on Kazakhstan (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 June 1996) does not imply an endorsement of his position. -- Bhavna Dave NEW CABINET APPOINTMENT IN UZBEKISTAN. President Islam Karimov on 17 July appointed Tahir Rakhimov to the post of foreign trade minister, Reuters reported. Rakhimov, who previously held the post of communications minister, takes over the position vacated last December when Utkur Sultanov left to become prime minister. -- Roger Kangas TAJIKISTAN-UZBEKISTAN SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT. Representatives from Tajikistan and Uzbekistan on 17 July signed a natural gas agreement that could resolve a major bilateral problem, ITAR-TASS reported. Tajikistan is heavily dependent on Uzbekistan for natural gas supplies, something Uzbekistan has used to its advantage in bilateral relations. In the winter of 1995, Uzbekistan cut back supplies of natural gas to Tajikistan forcing Dushanbe to implement drastic rationing measures. Uzbekistan claimed it had received only 3% of what it was owed for gas deliveries over a two-year period. The new agreement confirms Uzbek shipments of natural gas to Tajikistan in exchange for the right to ship goods through Tajikistan. Uzbekistan also promised to consider lowering gas prices. -- Bruce Pannier TAJIKS CLOSE BORDER WITH AFGHANISTAN. Citing intelligence reports of an opposition build-up along the Tajik-Afghan border, the Tajik government on 17 July announced that all trading posts along its southern border are closed, Reuters reported. Presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov added that the government is "reviewing its relations with all countries that provide support for the armed opposition," although Saidov stopped short of naming any particular countries. It is unclear whether the move will affect the repatriation of Tajik refugees from Afghanistan. -- 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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