|Every individual has a place to fill in the world, and is important, in some respect, whether he chooses to be so or not. - Nathaniel Hawthorne|
No. 169, Part I, 30 August 1996
Note to readers: The OMRI Daily Digest will not appear on 2 September 1996, a U.S. holiday 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 LEBED FLIES TO CHECHNYA FOR MORE TALKS. A planned meeting between Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov and the commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, to discuss the demilitarization agreement, was postponed on 29 August pending the return to Chechnya of Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Russian and Chechen troops continued to pull out of Grozny and some residents who had fled the fighting began to return, according to ITAR-TASS. Speaking in Moscow on 29 August, Lebed stressed that if any Chechen political faction were to consolidate its power, the result would be "more war," and called for the creation of "a new pyramid of power" comprising representatives of all political factions. Lebed also called for the resignation of pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev, according to AFP. On 30 August, Lebed flew back to Chechnya for talks with Maskhadov and acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev at an unspecified location, Western agencies reported. According to AFP, Maskhadov has accepted an invitation from the chairman of the PACE committee on Chechnya, Ernst Muellimann, to address the autumn session of the EU Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg if Lebed agrees to do likewise. -- Liz Fuller YELTSIN PHONES LEBED ON CHECHNYA PEACE PLAN . . . President Boris Yeltsin continued to maintain his distance from Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed by choosing to speak with him over the phone about Lebed's proposal for a settlement to the conflict, Ekho Moskvy reported. Neither Lebed nor Yeltsin revealed the content of their conversation. Lebed said that not being able to meet with Yeltsin in person is making his work difficult. Komsomolskaya pravda commented on 30 August that if Yeltsin approves the Chechen peace plan he would have to explain why he approved the war almost two years ago, why tens of thousands Russians have died, why he is negotiating with "bandits," and why money from the strapped federal budget is being spent on restoring buildings destroyed in the fighting, particularly if Chechnya might become independent. -- Robert Orttung . . . WHILE CHERNOMYRDIN CRITICIZES IT. Yeltsin's reaction to the peace plan was apparently negative judging from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's remark that the proposals need "serious work." He made that comment after meeting with Lebed, the power ministers, and the chairmen of both houses of the Federal Assembly at Yeltsin's request. Chernomyrdin expressed particular concern that Chechen separatist field commanders were setting up executive institutions parallel to Moscow- backed Doku Zavgaev's government. Lebed commented that the parallel institutions had always existed in Chechnya and that they had simply become more visible now, Radio Rossii reported. Chernomyrdin had earlier expressed cautious support for the plan but may now be shifting his position under pressure from Yeltsin. Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais supports Lebed's peace plans, according to Duma member Sergei Yushenkov, who along with Chubais is a member of the leadership of Russia's Democratic Choice, the BBC reported. -- Robert Orttung LEBED REJECTS DEMOCRATS' CALL TO PARTICIPATE IN ANTI-WAR DEMONSTRATION. Several reform parties, including Russia's Democratic Choice, Yabloko, and Democratic Russia are planning to hold a demonstration in Pushkin Square on 31 August to support Lebed's initiatives. However, Lebed rejected the idea of the rally, saying he hopes to succeed without the help of those parties, NTV reported 30 August, citing a Security Council Press Service statement. Galina Starovoitova, one of the rally organizers, said she doubts that Lebed had personally prepared this statement due to its emotional and angry tone, Radio Rossii reported. Later, Lebed called on the parliament and all of Russia's political parties to come to a common agreement on how to resolve the conflict. -- Robert Orttung YELTSIN'S PRESS SECRETARY ON PLANS. Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Moskovskii komsomolets on 29 August that he would like to organize regular briefings on President Yeltsin's health, attended by medical professionals who have treated the president. He did not say when journalists could expect the first such briefing. In the last two months, despite intense speculation in the media on the president's health, doctors have not spoken publicly about Yeltsin's condition. Yastzhembskii said another one of his priorities will be to develop an "information strategy" for shaping public opinion. As Russian ambassador to Slovakia, he said, he had observed how Moscow's information policy with respect to the war in Chechnya had "utterly failed." -- Laura Belin YABLOKO ATTACKS YELTSIN'S AUSTERITY DECREES. State Duma deputies from Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko party released two statements on 29 August attacking decrees signed earlier this month on enforcing an "austerity regime to fulfill the federal budget" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 August 1996). Charging that President Yeltsin "will save money on law and order" and "is rejecting the promises of candidate Yeltsin," they said the spending cuts would hurt precisely the groups whom Yeltsin promised to help before the election, including farmers, teachers, and doctors, Kommersant-Daily and Pravda-5 reported on 30 August. In particular, they complained that by removing privileges from judges and procurators and suspending planned increases in law enforcement personnel, Yeltsin's decree will weaken the judicial branch and impede the war on crime. -- Laura Belin PRIMORSKII KRAI TO HOLD REFERENDUM ON GOVERNOR. The Primorskii Krai legislative assembly has voted to hold a regional referendum on 22 September to decide on whether Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko should remain in office, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. The krai's residents will also be asked whether they support the governor's attempts to check the rise in electricity and railway transportation rates and the governor's policy of blocking the federal transfer of some of the krai's land to China. The assembly's decision comes after President Yeltsin formally placed the blame for the krai's energy and financial crises on Nazdratenko in early August. Nazdratenko was elected governor in December 1995 with about 90% of the vote. The president has the authority to remove governors from office. -- Anna Paretskaya TWO ASSASSINATION ATTEMPTS. Security service officers have arrested a man who attempted to throw a grenade at Vologda Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, Izvestiya reported on 30 August. The 30-year-old unemployed man is reportedly associated with an opposition organization in the oblast, according to a regional security official. Pozgalev, appointed governor in May this year, is said to have the best chance of winning the oblast's 6 October election. In other news, an unidentified assailant seriously wounded the top union official of the Volga car plant, Aleksandr Ivanov, in the city of Tolyatti on 29 August, ITAR-TASS and Izvestiya reported. Ivanov, who received four bullet wounds in his stomach and one leg, has been hospitalized. His assailant managed to escape. This is the second attempt on Ivanov's life this year and other union members have been similarly attacked, according to Izvestiya. -- Anna Paretskaya ANOTHER PLANE CRASH. At least 141 people were killed when a Vnukovo Airlines chartered plane crashed into a mountain on the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, Russian and Western agencies reported on 29 August. Most of the passengers were Russian and Ukrainian coal miners and their families traveling to work in Spitsbergen, which is 400 miles north of the Norwegian mainland. The cause of the crash was not known; air traffic controllers received no distress signal and although the Tupolev Tu-154 has a reputation for being accident-prone, the plane that crashed in Spitsbergen was an improved model and was only eight years old, according to the Los Angeles Times. ITAR-TASS suggested that low cloud cover could have been a factor. The accident was the sixth crash involving a Russian airplane this year, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin PKK CAMP NEAR YAROSLAVL. Militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have established a cultural center, and possibly a military training camp, near the Gavrilov Yam settlement in Yaroslavl, Komsomolskaya pravda reported on 29 August. The site, allegedly purchased by a group calling itself the International Union of Kurdish Public Associations, was previously home to the "Solnechnii" children's summer camp. The students at the new "military-political academy" are reportedly ethnic Kurds from CIS member states and "refugees," some of whom are wanted by the Turkish and Iranian authorities. The paper noted the camp, already "swarming with wounded Kurdish guerrillas," may turn into a rehabilitation center for Kurdish militants. -- Lowell Bezanis ARMS EXPORTER UNDER FIRE. In the 29 August issue of Segodnya Pavel Felgengauer published a number of leaked documents relating to the activities of the state-owned company Rosvooruzhenie, which has an effective monopoly of the arms export business worth $3 billion a year. A 7 June letter from Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov asked President Yeltsin to investigate the activities of the company, which Skuratov said is operating in the absence of legal regulation and does not clearly account for the funds at its disposal. Skuratov said it owes defense plants $200 million for weapons already delivered. Felgengauer says the company takes 7-10% commission, while other state trading companies take only 1%. Some senior managers, many of them army officers "on reserve," were reportedly paid up to $70,000 a year. After the Skuratov letter, 15 leading defense plant directors wrote to Yeltsin asking him not to shake up the company, which has managed to find some new customers overseas. However, changes are expected since arms exports were overseen by Presidential Security Service Head Aleksandr Korzhakov, who was dismissed in June. They may soon fall under the remit of Security Council Secretary Lebed. -- Peter Rutland ENERGY PRICES TO RISE. The government on 29 August discussed measures to avert an energy crisis this winter, which will include a doubling of electricity prices from 1 October, ORT and NTV reported. The issue is relatively urgent because the cities of the Far North must be supplied with stocks of coal and oil before winter sets in. Aleksandr Yevtushenko, the first deputy minister of fuel and energy, said that the non-payments crisis in the electricity sector "has the country by the throat," and demanded assistance from the Finance Ministry. First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Petrov said "non-traditional" and off-budget sources of additional funding would have to be found--given the government's pledge to the IMF to reduce the budget deficit. Meanwhile, in Primorskii Krai residents are facing power cuts of two hours per day, and Dalenergo has instructed all industrial customers to cut power usage by 40%. -- Peter Rutland BANKS FREEZE COMPANIES' PAYMENTS. Commercial banks froze some 11.5 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion at the current exchange rate) of companies' money earmarked for payments to other organizations as of mid-August, Segodnya reported on 29 August, citing the Federal Tax Agency. Of this amount, 5.9 trillion rubles (a 63% increase over April 1996) are payments that should have gone to the consolidated budget and non-budgetary funds. The largest proportion of frozen payments were recorded in Moscow (2.5 trillion rubles) and Moscow Oblast (1.9 trillion rubles). The tax agency has announced that it will send special commissions to these banks, whose aim will be to recover the frozen money and transfer it to the budget and non-budgetary funds. -- Natalia Gurushina RUSSIA TO CLOSE 35 TRADE REPRESENTATIVE OFFICES ABROAD. The Russian government has announced that it will close Russia's trade representative offices in 35 countries including Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and South Africa, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. Budget constraints and the current state of trade relations with these countries are the major reasons cited for the move. Meanwhile, the State Epidemiological Service has announced that 9% (1,840 metric tons) of food stuffs imported into Russia in the first half of 1996 were either of low quality or had passed the expiration date for freshness. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA CONFUSION OVER GERMAN STANCE ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH. The German Embassy in Yerevan on 28 August condemned what it described as the misinterpretation of statements made by Germany's OSCE Minsk Group representative, Ambassador Frank Lambach, during an early August meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev in Baku, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 August. On 23 August, the Information Department of the self- proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (RNK) accused Lambach of exhibiting pro-Azerbaijani bias in statements he had made about the possible future status of the RNK. The German Embassy said that Lambach's words had been misquoted and "had evoked fair criticism" from Armenia, according to Noyan Tapan. Meanwhile, Gerard Liparitian, special adviser to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, met this week in Germany with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vafa Gulu-zade, to discuss the Karabakh issue before flying to Ankara for a two-day working visit. -- Liz Fuller KARIMOV ON HUMAN RIGHTS, OPPOSITION. Speaking to parliament on 29 August, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said his government is committed to boosting cooperation with international human rights organizations, Reuters reported the same day. In the speech that marked the country's fifth year of independence, Karimov praised the republic's political stability and added that there is a need for political "alternatives" as long as they are "constructive." -- Lowell Bezanis BORDER GUARD OFFICERS CONFER. Senior border guard officers from Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia agreed in Moscow on 29 August to take "additional measures" to defend the Tajik- Afghan border, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Russia appears to be strengthening the hand of its border troops in Tajikistan in order to face down some 1,000 armed Tajik rebels who are reportedly ready to enter Tajikistan from Afghanistan. The presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan have both voiced their concern over the increase in tension along the border and have called on the Tajik government and opposition to resolve the conflict. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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