|We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us. - George Eliot|
No. 161, Part I, 20 August 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 DAGESTANI FINANCE MINISTER KILLED BY CAR BOMB. Dagestani Finance Minister Gamid Gamidov was killed by a powerful car bomb that exploded outside the finance ministry building in Makhachkala on 20 August, ITAR- TASS reported. Gamidov was standing in the entrance to the building when the bomb exploded. Another three people were reported killed and dozens injured. Gamidov, an entrepreneuer, was elected to the Duma in December, but resigned his seat in order to take over the finance ministry in Dagestan. He attracted some investment to the republic, built a series of industrial enterprises, and set up several commercial banks. -- Robert Orttung FEDERAL COMMANDER WARNS CIVILIANS TO LEAVE GROZNY . . . The commander of federal forces in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Konstantin Pulikovskii, late on 19 August ordered all civilians to evacuate Grozny within 48 hours, Russian and Western agencies reported. While denying that he was issuing an ultimatum, Pulikovskii said he "reserved the right" to launch an all-out artillery and aerial bombardment of separatist positions in the city after this deadline passed. Signaling that the Russian military are unwilling to accept their humiliating defeat in the recent Grozny fighting, Pulikovskii added early on 20 August that he saw no alternative to using force to resolve the current situation in Grozny, AFP reported. Sporadic fighting continued on 19 August, although a fragile truce seemed to be generally holding. But on the morning of 20 August, Pulikovskii announced that federal artillery had begun to bombard separatist positions in the city. -- Scott Parrish . . . WHILE LEBED OPPOSES BOMBARDMENT OF GROZNY. Security Council Secretary and presidential representative in Chechnya Aleksandr Lebed said on 19 August that he opposes the resumption of air strikes in Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking after a meeting with pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev, Lebed underlined his view that the Chechen conflict can only be resolved through peaceful means. On 20 August, Lebed said he would fly to Grozny the same day to take "extraordinary measures" to resolve the renewed tension there. He also declared that resolving the conflict was more important than either "my personal ambitions or those of [Interior Minister Anatolii] Kulikov." -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN TELLS LEBED TO RESTORE ORDER IN GROZNY. Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 19 August that President Yeltsin has ordered Lebed to "restore the order that prevailed" in Grozny before 5 August, when the latest Chechen separatist offensive began, Russian and Western agencies reported. He specifically instructed Lebed to "free government buildings, checkpoints, and places where Russian units are posted" in Grozny, many of which are currently encircled by separatist fighters, but also told him to observe the terms of the earlier peace agreements signed in Narzan and Moscow. He also ordered Lebed to present a plan for resolving the Chechen crisis by 26 August. Yastrzhembskii added that Yeltsin had not met with or spoken to Lebed since his return from Chechnya, when the Security Council secretary unsuccessfully demanded the sacking of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 August 1996). -- Scott Parrish REACTION TO LEBED-KULIKOV DISPUTE. Commentators have interpreted Yeltsin's treatment of Lebed since the Security Council secretary unsuccessfully demanded the ouster of hard-line Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov as a sign that the president supports Kulikov's position on Chechnya, Russian media reported on 20 August. Pavel Felgengauer, military correspondent for Segodnya, described the conflict between Lebed and Kulikov as a "typical Russian bureaucratic duel," adding that he expected both men to remain in the government. Pro- communist Pravda-5 suggested that the Chechen separatists would be the only winners of the bureaucratic conflict in Moscow. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN TAKES TWO DAYS TO CHECK OUT VACATION SITE. President Yeltsin has taken two days off to fly to Valdai, a lake region 200 miles northwest of Moscow, to determine whether he would like to spend a longer vacation there, his press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 20 August. Yeltsin is expected to return to Moscow later this week for consultations with the members of his new government, ITAR-TASS reported. Ekho Moskvy claimed that Yeltsin has been hospitalized since 15 August with heart trouble, but Yastrzhembskii called the report "utterly absurd," AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung OFFICIAL CAMPAIGN SPENDING FIGURES RELEASED. Yeltsin spent 3 billion rubles more than his communist challenger Gennadii Zyuganov during the presidential campaign, according to figures released by the Central Electoral Commission, Kommersant-Daily reported on 20 August. Yeltsin spent 14.4 billion rubles ($2.7 million) while Zyuganov used 11.3 billion ($2.1 million). Yeltsin spent about 10.3 billion rubles on TV and radio, while Zyuganov only bought 1.5 billion rubles worth of air time. Zyuganov concentrated his resources on the print media and flyers. Both candidates received most of their money from corporate contributions and stayed within the legal limit of 14.5 billion rubles. Few believe that these officially reported figures reflect actual campaign expenditures. -- Robert Orttung JOURNALISTS SEEK WAY TO END CHECHEN WAR . . . In its 15-21 August issue, Obshchaya gazeta polled a number of Russian newspaper editors asking if they thought that journalists should unite to press for an immediate halt to the Chechen war, a pullout of troops, and granting Chechnya independence. Some, like Moskovskii komsomolets Editor Pavel Gusev, fully supported the idea. Komsomolskaya pravda's Valerii Simonov doubted the ability of the journalists to unite, while Nezavisimaya gazeta's Vitalii Tretyakov backed the idea of pressing for an immediate halt to the war, but questioned whether an immediate troop withdrawal was a realistic option. Vladimir Volin of Megapolis-Ekspress said that some sort of journalist action was needed, but could think of nothing that would get the government's attention. Obshchaya gazeta itself originated as a common newspaper put out by journalists opposed to the August 1991 coup. -- Robert Orttung . . . AND BEGIN PLANNING FIRST ACTIONS. An organizing committee that grew out of the Obshchaya gazeta publication held its first meeting on 19 August, ITAR-TASS reported. Several newspapers are planning to call for a mass demonstration against the war in Chechnya in Moscow in September. Obshchaya gazeta is also planning to publish a broadsheet containing the opinions of ordinary people about the war. The newspaper first appeared during the days of the 1991 coup when it united the efforts of several publications banned by the coup makers. It also united the efforts of numerous journalists to put together a special edition on the day Dmitrii Kholodov, a Moskovskii komsomolets reporter murdered while investigating corruption in the military, was buried. -- Robert Orttung MUTED CELEBRATION ON COUP ANNIVERSARY. No more than 50 people, carrying banners saying "Communism is dead," gathered outside the Russian White House to mark the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the failed putsch attempt, AFP reported on 19 August. Due to the lack of state finance, organizers gave up plans for pompous celebrations and had to be content with a modest march by defenders of the White House, the bastion of resistance to the Communist coup plotters, and sporting competitions. Likewise, a concert initially planned to take place on Red Square was moved behind St. Basil's Cathedral, a decision that led to most artists scheduled to perform pulling out. -- Anna Paretskaya DEPUTY WARNS MILITARY IS IN "EXPLOSIVE" SITUATION. At a Moscow press conference, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin said that deteriorating living conditions in the military had created an "explosive situation" in which more and more servicemen are openly expressing discontent, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that the military is now owed 15 trillion rubles ($2.8 billion) by the federal budget, and warned that military strike committees were forming. Rokhlin added that 392 military personnel had died from various non-combat related causes in 1995, noting that over one-third of them had committed suicide, presumably because of atrocious working and living conditions. Meanwhile, 30 soldiers from an internal troops unit in Perm Oblast deserted on 19 August, complaining of vicious hazing. A mother of one of the deserters told Russian TV that the soldiers had fled the "unbearable, prison-like" atmosphere of their unit, and would rather live in the woods than return. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA LEADS U.S. IN ARMS SALES TO DEVELOPING WORLD. The U.S. Congressional Research Service has calculated that Russian arms sales to the developing world grew by an impressive 62% in 1995 and reached $6 billion, outpacing the United States, which sold $3.8 billion in weapons to the same countries, The New York Times reported on 20 August. Russia has thus become the largest seller of arms to the developing world, the report said, with China its biggest customer. Russian arms sales are difficult to calculate, however, due to government secrecy, weak export controls, and a blurring between signed contracts and actual deliveries. Also, Russia does not report its conventional arms sales to the UN, as do many Western countries. All sources agree that Russian arms exports surged in 1995, but the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has estimated that Russian arms exports totaled $3.9 billion in 1995, while Russian officials have placed the figure at about $2.5 billion. -- Scott Parrish STRIKES OVER OVERDUE WAGES CONTINUE. Four thousand employees of the Sokol joint stock company went on strike on 19 August, demanding immediate payment of wages they have not received since January, ITAR- TASS reported. The enterprise in Belgorod is a leading military communication systems factory. Meanwhile, miners of the Primorskii Krai Tsentralnaya pit continue their strike to demand payment of wage arrears and the reversal of a decision to close down the pit. According to the miners' trade union, wage debts to miners total about 3 trillion rubles ($550 million), while workers in all industries are owed a total of 34 trillion rubles in back wages. -- Anna Paretskaya YELTSIN ORDERS SPENDING CUTS . . . President Yeltsin signed a package of eight decrees on 19 August aimed at increasing taxes and cutting spending, ITAR-TASS reported. The decrees abolished all presidential privileges and tax breaks granted since the adoption of the 1996 federal budget, including most of Yeltsin's pre-election promises. Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said the measures were worth 50 trillion rubles ($9.4 billion). However, some extra spending plans were exempted from the freeze, including payment of pension arrears, savings compensation for pensioners, funding for the Children of Russia program, subsidies for the Nakhodka free economic zone, "and a few others." The revenue-raising measures, including the imposition of VAT on imports from Ukraine, had been widely discussed in recent weeks. -- Peter Rutland . . . IMF TO APPROVE GOVERNMENT PERFORMANCE. According to Livshits, an IMF team has completed its visit to Moscow and the IMF is expected to approve the release of the delayed $340 million loan tranche from July, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 August. Reuters quoted the IMF representative in Moscow, Thomas Wolf, as saying that the mission "was reassured about the performance in July and that the necessary revenue measures are being taken." IMF approval probably has more to do with the promotion of sympathetic figures in the new government than with the actual implementation of budget-balancing measures. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA PENSIONERS IN KAZAKHSTAN CHEATED. The Kazakhstani Prosecutor General's office discovered that pensioners and invalids have not been receiving all the money allocated for them, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 August. President Nursultan Nazarbayev signed a decree years ago, calculated on rising monthly wages, which raised the pensions of persons who retired prior to 1 January 1992. However, the Ministry of Social Maintenance was short of funds and slashed payments to pensioners and invalids to make up the difference. Instead of receiving 700 tenge ($10) per month, people were getting 307 tenge. Back payments owed to pensioners and invalids currently amount to more than 7 billion tenge. -- Bruce Pannier TAVIL-DARA IN OPPOSITION HANDS. Opposition forces occupied the central Tajikistan town of Tavil-Dara on 17 August, Reuters reported. This was admitted by a Tajik government representative to the group, Zafar Ikromov, who is monitoring the ceasefire agreement. The Tajik Defense Ministry claims its forces withdrew in order to prevent losses among the civilian population of the town. -- Bruce Pannier KYRGYZSTAN SEEKS TAJIK COOPERATION IN REFUGEE PROBLEM. The Kyrgyz government has asked Tajik authorities to speed up the repatriation of Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 August. Kyrgyz Minister of Labor and Social Security Zafar Khakimov stated there are 15,000 Tajik refugees registered in Kyrgyzstan, mainly in the Osh and Jalalabad areas. Khakimov said the concentration of Tajik refugees in Kyrgyzstan's southern regions was creating tensions, specifically in the Betken district, an area already possessing a Tajik majority and still claimed by Dushanbe as belonging to Tajikistan. -- Bruce Pannier VELAYATI IN ASHGABAT. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati held talks with his Turkmen counterpart Boris Shikhmuradov in Ashgabat on 19 August, IRNA reported the same day. The two discussed the intensified conflict in Tajikistan and ways to boost bilateral and regional cooperation. Velayati also announced Tehran's plans to host a regional, foreign minister-level, peace conference on Afghanistan tentatively scheduled for 28-29 October. Earlier this week the beleaguered government in Kabul rejected a proposal submitted to the UN Security Council by Pakistan and Uzbekistan to embargo the sale of arms to any of the factions fighting in Afghanistan. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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