|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
No. 191, Part I, 2 October 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 RODIONOV URGES INCREASED MILITARY FUNDING . . . Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told a Moscow press conference on 1 October that the 98.7 trillion rubles ($18 billion) allocated to the armed forces in the draft 1997 budget will cover only one-third of the military's needs, Russian and Western agencies reported. While denying that a military rebellion was likely, Rodionov said that if the government fails to resolve the military's financial problems, especially chronic wage arrears, "undesirable, uncontrollable processes" may begin. He added that "Russia may lose its armed forces as an integrated and militarily effective state structure." The Defense Minister argued that military reform, including a reduction in the armed forces personnel from 1.5 to 1.2 million, was ready to proceed, but could not move ahead without sufficient funding. He also expressed doubts that the military could make the change to an all-professional force by 2000, as President Boris Yeltsin ordered in May, saying that 2005 was more realistic. -- Scott Parrish . . . YELTSIN CALLS FOR GOVERNMENT RESPONSE. At a meeting in the Central Clinical Hospital the same day, Yeltsin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to convene a special cabinet meeting to discuss the financing of the military, ITAR-TASS and ORT reported. He also told Chernomrydin to chair a session of the Defense Council on 4 October to discuss military reform and other security issues. The meeting will be the first for the council, which Yeltsin created in July. Kommersant- Daily on October 2 said the sweeping proposed agenda for the session again raised the question of the relationship between the Defense Council and the Security Council. -- Scott Parrish GAZPROM BATTLES THE TAX MAN. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev addressed a letter to the Duma on 1 October protesting recent actions by the tax authorities against his company, including the freezing of some bank accounts, AFP and Kommersant-Daily reported. Gazprom owes 15 trillion rubles ($2.8 billion) in tax arrears -- but is in turn owed 48 trillion by its customers. Vyakhirev pointedly noted that Gazprom is refraining from cutting off supplies to these debtors -- which include Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bashkortostan, and Tatarstan. The IMF has been urging the government to break up Gazprom into half a dozen smaller companies, and ORT commented that Gazprom sees the tax actions as part of a "consistent effort by certain unnamed state officials to destroy Gazprom in its present form." The Duma is set to discuss the 1997 budget draft later this week, and could be a useful ally for Gazprom. -- Peter Rutland RUSSIA SETS RECORD IN JOURNALIST DEATHS. Russia set a "shameful record" of 34 journalists killed or missing in 1995, according to Pavel Gutiontov, chairman of the Committee for Defending Freedom of Speech and Journalists' Rights, RTR and ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. According to a report from the International Federation of Journalists, more than half of the 61 journalists killed worldwide in 1995 were from Russia. Gutiontov noted that the number of deaths per year had risen sharply since 1991, when two Russian journalists were killed and two were missing. Furthermore, he said, investigations of such cases are usually carried out by the victims' families and colleagues rather than law enforcement agencies. Gutiontov also criticized editors, who he said often send their correspondents to "hot spots" like Chechnya without providing them with life insurance. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN CALLS FOR CIS SUMMIT ON AFGHANISTAN. President Yeltsin told Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 1 October to contact the leaders of the other CIS states to suggest a CIS summit to review the situation in Afghanistan, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed told a press conference that Afghan's Taliban movement, which recently seized Kabul, plans to move north into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Lebed warned that if the Taliban, "backed by Pakistan," combines forces with the Tajik opposition operating in northern Afghanistan, they could easily "sweep away Russian border posts in Tajikstan, and the road to the north across the plains will be open." He urged that Russia support various Afghan warlords who still might block the Taliban from seizing control of north Afghanistan. -- Scott Parrish CHERNOYMYRDIN, LEBED, DENOUNCE NATO EXPANSION. Speaking after a meeting in Geneva with Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cottii, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin reaffirmed Russian opposition to NATO enlargment, Russian and Western agencies reported on 1 October. Chernomyrdin cautioned against "gambling" with European stability by enlarging the alliance. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said that NATO expansion "would again lead to hostility and confrontation," since it was clearly directed against Russia. Moscow could respond, he warned "with rusty, but still existing missiles." European security could be more effectively and cheaply bolstered by increasing Western economic aid to Russia rather than enlarging NATO, he suggested. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIAN, BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT LEADERS MEET. Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Belarusian Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetsky met in Moscow on 1 October to discuss the planned 24 October session of the parliamentary assembly of the Russo-Belarusian community, ITAR-TASS reported. At a subsequent press conference, the two politicians expressed the hope that Ukraine would join the community, although Kyiv has shown no interest in doing so. Seleznev expressed solidarity with his Belarusian counterpart in the ongoing political struggle over constitutional reform in Belarus, saying the Duma supports "the Belarusian parliamentarians in their fight for a truly real power of parliament." Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, by contrast, told journalists the same day that Russia shoud support Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who he said "is trying to save the country from crisis." -- Scott Parrish MINERS STRIKE IN VORKUTA. Heeding a call from the Independent Miners Union, miners from 11 pits in Vorkuta staged a one-day strike on 1 October to protest wage arrears and to call for the full implementation of a decree issued by President Yeltsin on resolving the problems of the Pechora coal basin, ITAR-TASS reported. In the run-up to the presidential election in May, Yeltsin ordered the elimination of the wage debt to miners in the Arctic region and increased social benefits. Like many other such promises, these have not been kept. Thousands of other workers from state-funded organizations reportedly joined miners in a mass rally. The same day, the leader of the Russian Coal-Industry Workers' Union announced that its members plan to hold a nationwide strike on 5 November to protest wage arrears totalling 2.7 trillion rubles (as of 10 September). -- Penny Morvant SCIENTISTS PROTEST STATE DEBTS. Dozens of Russian scientists have threatened to join two of their colleagues already on a hunger strike if the government does not pay its debt to scientific institutions by 10 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. Representatives of the trade union of the Russian Academy of Sciences said scientists are also planning to rally in Moscow and several other cities in mid-October. Moscow scientists Vladimir Strakhov and Igor Naumenko-Bondarenko went on a hunger strike on 30 September. According to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Fortov, the government debt to the scientific sector totals 3 trillion rubles. He said that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had agreed that the state would pay 250 billion rubles to the Academy by the end of the year. -- Penny Morvant AIRCRAFT DISPUTE SETTLED. Aeroflot and the government of Tatarstan have settled the dispute over the airline's purchase of 10 Boeing 737-400s, Kommersant-Daily reported on 1-2 October. Aeroflot Chairman Yevgenii Shaposhnikov said that his company will go on with the Boeing deal but in the future would agree to buy a new Russian-made aircraft, the TU- 214, which is manufactured in Kazan, provided its safety standards improve. It is likely that the new aircraft will be fitted with Rolls Royce RB211-535E4 engines instead of domestic PS-90 engines. Aeroflot's decision in September to buy the U.S. aircraft could have been partly motivated by the fact that foreign manufacturers sell airplanes on credit, whereas Russian firms often demand payments in cash up front. -- Natalia Gurushina BUDGET DEFICIT RECORDED IN THE FIRST SEVEN MONTHS OF 1996. In the first seven months of this year the federal budget deficit reached 51.3 trillion rubles ($9.5 billion), or 4.3% of GDP, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 October, citing the State Statistical Committee. This is above the 3.85% limit initially agreed to with the IMF (both numbers using Russian methodology). Some 55% of the deficit was covered by the issuance of state securities, and 45% by external financing. Tax arrears totaled 48.1 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, the Yabloko Duma faction submitted an alternative version of the 1997 budget, Radio Rossii reported on 1 October. They suggest separating the functions of the Finance and Treasury ministries. The Finance Ministry is supposed to prepare the budget and pass it to the treasury, while the latter should be held responsible for the budget's execution. A major problem for spending ministries this year was the Finance Ministry's refusal to release funds allotted in the budget. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA MANUKYAN ABJURES VIOLENCE. In an interview broadcast by Russian Public TV (ORT) on 1 October, defeated Armenian presidential candidate Vazgen Maukyan, who is currently in hiding, stated that he favors a political, rather than a violent solution to the problems facing the country. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 1 October, the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, Khachatour Bezirjian, denied that there had been major irregularities during the 22 September presidential poll. Also on 1 October, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns expressed concern at reports that up to 250 Armenians have been detained following the 25 September attack by Manukyan's supporters on the Armenian parliament building, Reuters reported. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIA CONCERNED OVER SHEVARDNADZE'S STANCE ON BASES. The Russian Foreign Ministry is concerned with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's continued insistence that ratification by the Georgian parliament of the 1994 treaty allowing Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia is contingent on the restoration of Tbilisi's rule over the disputed region of Abkhazia, AFP reported on 1 October quoting an unidentified Russian diplomat. Shevardnadze is under increasing domestic pressure to resolve the issue of Abkhazia's status within Georgia. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIA DEBT TO KAZAKSTAN FOR BAIKONUR GROWS. Russia's debt to Kazakstan for leasing the Baikonur cosmodrome has reached $445 million, AFP reported on 1 October, quoting Kazakstani Deputy Prime Minister Nigmadjan Issiguarin. Baikonur is still Russia's major launching site. Under a bilateral agreement signed in 1994 and ratified by Russia in April 1996, Moscow is supposed to pay $115 million a year over 20 years to lease the site. However, no payments have been made. Russian officials say the arrears are being set against Kazakstan's debt to Russia for energy and other supplies, which amounts to some $1 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina MORE ON NIYAZOV IN BAYRAM-ALI . . . During his 27 September speech to senior legislators in Bayram-Ali, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurad Niyazov said he expected the country's economy to grow 50-60% in the next five years, according to a BBC-monitored 28 September Turkmen Press report. He predicted that 110 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 10 million metric tons of oil will be extracted yearly during this period, most large and medium-sized firms will be privatized next year, and that both the metallurgical plant in Mari and the Iranian-Turkmen gas pipeline would be finished the following year. Niyazov also noted that annual inflation is to remain within a 10-15% band and up to 60% of the state budget will go to social spending. -- Lowell Bezanis . . . AND TURKMENISTAN'S MILITARY DOCTRINE. Turkmenistan's Peoples' Council [Khalk Maslakhati] made public a document which elaborates on the country's military doctrine to insure that it conforms with the "permanent neutrality" envisaged in its constitution, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. According to the text published by the agency, Turkmenistan regards no country as its enemy, it eschews participation in any military blocs, alliances or "inter-state coalitions with rigid obligations or contemplating collective responsibility." This language would appear to preclude participation not only in CIS, but nascent inter-Central Asian, security arrangements as well. The text specifically states that Turkmenistan will not host foreign military bases. While there are no Russian bases in Turkmenistan, the Turkmen border is currently patrolled by Russian troops under contract. -- Lowell Bezanis TAJIKISTAN IMPACTED BY TURMOIL IN AFGHANISTAN. Recent events in Afghanistan have started a flurry of diplomatic and military activity in Central Asia, particularly in Tajikistan. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov sent an appeal to the UN and "to world powers" asking for a political settlement in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Along the Tajik-Afghan border the situation remains tense. Russian sources on 1 October reported the deaths of four more Russian border guards in fighting near Kalai-Khumb. Radio Rossii, also on 1 October, reported that the estimated 300 fighters of the Tajik opposition, massed in Afghanistan opposite border guard positions, have been joined by "bands of Afghan Mojahedin" and now number 1,500. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Pete Baumgartner ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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