|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
No. 200, Part I, 15 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 ************************************************************************ Do you need sharply focused economic news? OMRI's weekly Economic Digest provides thorough coverage of business and financial developments throughout the region. The latest issue includes stories on how Russia's Central Bank recently averted a crisis, Bulgaria's budget woes, and the latest on privatization bond trading in Slovakia. For subscription and rate information, please send a message to email@example.com *********************************************************************** RUSSIA YELTSIN NAMES LEBED TO HEAD NEW COMMISSION ON CHECHNYA. President Boris Yeltsin on 14 October approved the creation of a new 17-man commission to conduct negotiations with the Chechen leadership, Russian media reported. The commission is to be headed by Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and includes the presidents of three North Caucasian republics, Russian Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov, and presidential adviser Emil Pain, according to ITAR-TASS. No details have been released concerning the Russian members of the other joint Russian- Chechen government commission that was announced on 3 October and is charged with implementing the agreement signed in Khasavyurt on 31 August by Lebed and Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov. The division of responsibilities between the two commisions is unclear. -- Liz Fuller ZYUGANOV SAYS YELTSIN INCAPABLE OF WORK . . . Comparing Russia to a ship "in a stormy sea without a captain," Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov charged that President Yeltsin "has not worked a day" since 17 June and will not be able to resume work again, Western agencies reported on 14 October. Zyuganov once again demanded the creation of a state medical commission to evaluate the health of leaders, noting that Yeltsin was unable to work for health reasons for the better part of five months in 1995. Zyuganov argued that extraordinary measures are required to save Russia from total collapse and repeated calls for forming a State Commission on which the presidential administration, government, and parliament would all be represented, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported. -- Laura Belin . . . TV NETWORKS IGNORE OR DISMISS COMMENTS ON HEALTH. Although Zyuganov's assertion that Yeltsin will never be able to work again made headlines in Western news agencies, state-run Russian TV (RTR) and the leading private network NTV ignored those comments, focusing on other aspects of Zyuganov's press conference, as did the official ITAR-TASS news agency. State-controlled Russian Public TV (ORT) noted toward the end of its report that Zyuganov "yet again did not pass up the chance to talk about the president's incapacity for work" but immediately quoted Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov, who had earlier in the day called the opposition's behavior regarding the president's health "un- Christian" and "cynical." Recent television coverage has tended to support claims by Yeltsin's aides and doctors that the president is capable of working several hours a day. -- Laura Belin FEDOROV TO APPEAL SACKING. Boris Fedorov said on 14 October he plans to appeal his dismissal as president of the National Sports Fund, Russian media reported. The foundation's board sacked him in late May after he had been charged with possession of cocaine. Fedorov has since filed charges against former Presidential Security Service head Aleksandr Korzhakov for extortion and Col. Valerii Streletskii, Fedorov's successor as fund head, for corruption. Fedorov also alleged that Korzhakov and Streletskii might have been involved in a June attempt on his life. Some speculate that Fedorov's disclosures are aimed against Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, who is supporting Korzhakov's bid for a Duma seat in Tula. RTR quoted current fund head Sergei Leonyuk as alleging that Fedorov was telling everybody that presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais had called him and promised to secure his reinstatement as fund head. -- Penny Morvant WATCHDOGS: NO INDEPENDENT MEDIA IN PRIMORSKII KRAI. There are no independent media in Primorskii Krai, according to experts for the Glasnost Defense Foundation who just spent a week in the krai, ITAR-TASS and RTR reported on 14 October. They said journalists have been fired for criticizing the authorities and noted that most publications cannot survive without state subsidies. Appearing at the same press conference, a press secretary for Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko complained that the watchdog group is biased. She admitted that local media are politically engaged but denied that pressure from the authorities is responsible. -- Laura Belin RUSSIA, VENEZUELA OPPOSE U.S. EMBARGO OF CUBA. Following a Moscow meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Miguel Burelli, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov declared that both Moscow and Caracas oppose the Helms-Burton law tightening the U.S. economic embargo against Cuba, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 October. Primakov said discussions continue on reviving a trilateral oil supply arrangement which was in effect from 1978-1990; under which Venezuela delivered oil to Cuba in return for Russian oil deliveries to Venezuelan clients in Europe. Primakov reiterated that Russia will "fulfill all its obligations toward Cuba," including completing the controversial Juragua nuclear power station. However, Russia and Cuba have failed to find international financial backing for the $750 million project. -- Scott Parrish JAPANESE TRAWLER SEIZED NEAR SOUTH KURILS. The Japanese Foreign Ministry on 14 October reiterated its demand that Russia release a Japanese trawler and its five crew members, who were detained on 12 October by Russian border guards on charges of poaching in Russian territorial waters, Russian and Western agencies reported. The incident took place about 9 km off the coast of Kunashir Island, one of the four disputed southern Kuril islands claimed by both Russia and Japan. Multiple rounds of ongoing bilateral talks on fishing rights in the waters around the disputed islands have failed to reach agreement, and Russian border patrols frequently chase Japanese trawlers out of waters claimed by Russia. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA, LITHUANIA SIGN BORDER CONTROL AGREEMENT. Director of the Russian Federal Border Service Andrei Nikolaev and acting Lithuanian Border Police Director Audronis Beisys met in Kaliningrad on 14 October to sign a protocol outlining joint measures to control the Russian-Lithuanian border, RTR reported. The network said the protocol is the first intergovernmental agreement on border control issues signed by the two countries since Lithuania regained its independence in 1991, blaming ongoing talks over the demarcation of their sea border for the delay. Nikolaev likened the protocol to similar agreements Russia has signed with Finland, Estonia, and Latvia, creating a "regional system of border security" to combat illegal immigration, arms smuggling, and drug trafficking. -- Scott Parrish NIYAZOV IN MOSCOW. Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov arrived in Moscow on 14 October for two days of talks with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and President Yeltsin on economic relations, Afghanistan, and resource exploitation in the Caspian Sea, Russian and Western agencies reported the same day. Niyazov and Chernomyrdin failed to come to an agreement on Russia's estimated $500 million debt to Turkmenistan for natural gas. The situation is complicated by the fact that Russia controls 45% of the Turkmen-Russian joint venture Turkmenrosgaz which enjoys sole rights to export Turkmen natural gas within the CIS. Ashgabat hopes to export 5 billion cubic meters of gas to Russia in 1997--half the amount planned last year--and secure payment in a mixture of hard currency (20%) and industrial goods (80%). Niyazov said views on Afghanistan vary among CIS member-states but added that Ashgabat would coordinate its policy with Moscow. -- Lowell Bezanis ILYUSHIN DISCUSSES SOCIAL CRISIS. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin described Russia's current socioeconomic situation as disastrous at a news conference on 14 October, ORT reported. He noted that real incomes have fallen about 40% since 1991, that the pension debt is rising by about 2 trillion rubles ($370 million) every month, and that education, health care, and culture have received only 65%, 60%, and 30% of the funds designated to them in the budget, respectively. According to Reuters, Ilyushin also complained that he has little money or power to put things right. The government has drafted a two-stage social policy program to try to raise living standards, rationalize the labor market, and improve infrastructure. The first phase covers the rest of 1996 and 1997, when financial resources are limited, and the second covers the 1998-2000 period, when it is hoped that economic growth will allow greater social spending. -- Penny Morvant CHUBAIS ON STRENGTHENING THE LEGAL SYSTEM. Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais told the Council of Judges at the Russian Academy of Law in Moscow that President Yeltsin has instructed his administration to find solutions to the problems facing Russia's legal system, ITAR- TASS reported on 14 October. Chubais emphasized the importance of strengthening the judiciary, given the current lack of laws in Russia and the inability of the state to enforce them. Referring to the funding problems experienced by judicial bodies, he blamed the crisis on poor tax collection. Some local courts have ground to a halt due to a lack of money to pay staff. Chubais promised that money obtained by the Provisional Emergency Commission for Strengthening Tax and Budget Discipline established recently by Yeltsin (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 October 1996) will be used to finance the federal legal system. -- Penny Morvant and Ritsuko Sasaki PRIVATIZATION REVENUE IN 1996. The consolidated budget's privatization revenue in the first nine months of 1996 reached 1.67 trillion rubles ($307 million), ITAR-TASS reported on 14 October, citing the State Tax Agency. The collected revenue amounts to less than 1% of budget revenue and is only 14% of the target of 12 trillion rubles for 1996. In 1995 as a whole, privatization revenue totaled 2.4 trillion rubles, according to Ekonomika i zhizn (no. 40). Last year's privatization target was reached due to the launch of the controversial loans-for-shares scheme in November 1995. Later this year, the government hopes to sell a 25% stake in the telecom company Svyazinvest and 7.5% of the shares in the national power grid EES Rossii. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ABKHAZIA REJECTS NEW GEORGIAN PEACE PROPOSAL. Abkhaz parliament chairman Vladislav Ardzinba has rejected a new Georgian proposal for talks on resolving the issue of Abkhazia's status vis-a-vis the Georgian government in Tbilisi with the participation of Western powers, according to an 11 October Republic of Abkhazia Radio broadcast monitored by the BBC. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali's envoy to Abkhazia, Edouard Brunner, endorsed the Abkhaz proposal to hold a new parliamentary election on 23 November, following a meeting with Ardzinba on 10 October. The proposal has been condemned by Tbilisi. The Abkhaz Supreme Soviet in exile in Tbilisi condemned Brunner's statement and called on the UN to replace him, Iberia news agency reported on 12 October. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on 14 October said he believed that "the UN, European structures, and Russia have not yet exhausted the possibilities for a political settlement" in Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller CHEVRON/SOCAR OIL SWAP IN PROGRESS. The first tanker of oil from Kazakstan's Tengiz oil field docked at the Dyubendi terminal north of Baku on 11 October, Turan reported. Under an agreement between Tengizchevroil and Azerbaijan's state oil company, SOCAR, 20,000 metric tons of oil from Kazakstan is to be transported across the Caspian Sea; in return, SOCAR will deliver the same amount by rail to the Georgian Black Sea port of Batumi for export. The one-time swap is intended to test the viability of using routes to export oil from Kazakstan avoiding Russia; if it proves successful, the Batumi route could be used to export 1 million tons per year. Chevron President Richard Matzke arrived in Baku on 11 October from Georgia where he held talks on this project with President Eduard Shevardnadze and Adzhar parliament chairman Aslan Abashidze. -- Liz Fuller COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION VISITS ARMENIA. A three-member delegation of the Council of Europe has concluded a visit to Armenia aimed at assessing the post-election situation in that country, Noyan Tapan reported on 14 October. The delegation met with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan and his main opposition challenger, Vazgen Manukyan. The delegates said on 11 October that they do not consider the Armenian opposition to be "fascist." During one of his campaign speeches, Ter- Petrossyan said Armenia would be faced with fascism if the opposition came to power. The delegation will release its final report in November. In other news, the OSCE's Warsaw Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights told RFE/RL on 14 October that its final report on the presidential election in Armenia "will be consistent with" its previous statement that questioned the validity of the vote. -- Emil Danielyan UZBEK SOM IN TROUBLE? The Uzbek Central Bank has refuted rumors that the country's currency is unstable, Ozbekiston Ovozi reported on 12 October. In a published statement, the bank said there is no government plan to introduce a new currency in Uzbekistan or devalue the existing som as a means of putting a stop to the currency's steady decline. While the som remained stable for most of 1995 and 1996, it began to fall from its rate of 35/$1 in the summer of 1996 to the current level of 40.50/$1. More telling is the fact that the black market rate has jumped from 40/$1 to more than 70/$1 over the same period. Curiously, the currency woes are taking place when Uzbekistan's economic output and foreign investment are increasing. -- Roger Kangas TAJIK OPPOSITION ATTACK. The United Tajik Opposition radio Voice of Free Tajikistan reported on 12 October that its forces in the Gorno- Badakhshsan area attacked Russian troops in the Darvoz district, killing 36 Russian border guards and capturing 15 others. The broadcast also claimed that the opposition shot down three helicopters and seized some ammunition. However, RTR on 14 October and Nezavisimaya gazeta on 15 October suggested that no Russian border guards have been killed and that five opposition fighters were killed while trying to cross the Pyanj River. -- 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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