|There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. - Graham Greene|
No. 226, Part I, 21 November 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 OMRI Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html RUSSIA YELTSIN MAKES FIRST POST-OPERATION TV APPEARANCE. In his first television appearance since his 5 November heart operation, President Boris Yeltsin said he is "in a fighting mood" but did not comment on any specific political matters, Russian and Western media reported on 20 November. Yeltsin was shown walking near the Kremlin Central Hospital with his wife, daughter, and granddaughter. While admitting he is not "completely and firmly back on my feet," he said he no longer suffers from heart pain. He is expected to be moved to the Barvikha sanitarium soon for further recuperation before returning to the Kremlin. In an interview published in Izvestiya on 21 November, Naina Yeltsin said the president's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, does not interfere in personnel matters or prepare presidential decrees but often helps Yeltsin by not deceiving him and telling him "what others will not." -- Laura Belin BEREZOVSKII NOT AN ISRAELI CITIZEN. Israel's ambassador to Russia, Aliza Shenhar, announced on 20 November that Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii is not an Israeli citizen, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported. Berezovskii has admitted that he sought Israeli citizenship in late 1993, but he said he asked Israeli authorities to cancel his citizenship after being appointed to the Security Council in October. Some commentators had argued that it was inappropriate for a person with dual citizenship to hold high government office, and Izvestiya questioned Berezovskii's truthfulness about the matter (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 and 15 November 1996). -- Laura Belin AGRARIANS CHANGE STANCE ON LAND SALES. Leaders of the Agrarian Party of Russia (APR) have agreed to change their stance toward the buying and selling of farmland, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 November. APR Chairman Mikhail Lapshin said his party would not oppose "restricted" sales or what he called a "civilized land market." The shift could pave the way toward passage of a land code. A presidential decree in March allowed sale of farmland with some restrictions, but the APR and its left-wing allies in the State Duma strongly opposed the measure. The Duma passed a draft land code in May banning all sales of arable land but was unable to override the Federation Council's veto on the code (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 May, 27 June and 15 July 1996). -- Laura Belin DEFENSE COUNCIL INCREASES MILITARY BUDGET. The Defense Council decided at its 20 November meeting to increase the 1997 state defense order by 6 trillion rubles ($1.1 billion), with 1.6 trillion rubles allocated to clothing and food, and 4.4 trillion rubles for weapons and equipment, Russian and Western agencies reported. That would increase defense expenditures in the 1997 draft budget from 102 trillion rubles ($20.4 billion) to 108 trillion rubles. The Duma has postponed until 4 December consideration of the draft 1997 budget approved by the joint government- parliament conciliation commission. -- Scott Parrish POLICE KIDNAPPED IN CHECHNYA. Two Russian Interior Ministry OMON soldiers were kidnapped near Grozny by gunmen on 20 November while on joint patrol with two Chechen fighters, Russian media reported. NTV reported that the officers were being held hostage by a Chechen field commander in exchange for the release of three of his men who were arrested earlier this month and are now being held in a Stavropol prison. A Chechen representative of the joint Russian-Chechen command of Grozny later negotiated the officers' release, but on the morning of 21 November they had not yet been freed. Also on 20 November, in a separate attack near Grozny, four Russian soldiers were killed. Meanwhile, in Moscow, the Duma rejected a draft law presented by the government on providing compensation to victims of the Chechen conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Scott Parrish CONFUSION IN MOSCOW OVER NATO? "Mutually exclusive" statements from the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry on Russia's stance toward NATO raise the question of "whether Russia has a unified and comprehensive position on NATO, and if so, what is it?" commented Izvestiya on 21 November. The paper noted that while Defense Minister Igor Rodionov was saying that NATO does not threaten Russia (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 November 1996), Russia's ambassador to Sweden, Oleg Grinevskii, was telling a Stockholm conference that NATO expansion would increase the risk of nuclear war, warning that Russian nuclear forces could destroy Europe and the U.S. Those contradictory statements follow a disagreement between Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov over whether Russia should apply for NATO membership (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 November 1996). -- Scott Parrish PROGRAM TO AID FORMER SOVIET SCIENTISTS SAID TO BE WORKING. An international program aimed at providing scientists from the former USSR with nonweapons-related work is paying off, according to a report by the U.S. government-funded National Research Council. The EC (now the EU), Japan, and the U.S. set up an International Science and Technology Center in Moscow in 1992 in the hope of dissuading former Soviet scientists and engineers from selling their expertise to rogue countries and terrorist groups eager to acquire weapons of mass destruction, RFE/RL reported on 21 November. The center has received almost $140 million and undertaken 236 projects, employing about 12,000 scientists, in Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakstan, and Kyrgyzstan. -- Penny Morvant KUZBASS SALVATION COMMITTEES CALL FOR REGIONAL PROTEST. A coordinating council of salvation committees of Kuzbass cities meeting in Prokopevsk has called for a regional protest action, NTV reported on 20 November. The proposal was advanced by Anatolii Chegis, chairman of the council of oblast trade union organizations. The form of the protest will vary from enterprise to enterprise and will coincide with the opening of a trade union congress in Moscow. The heads of the salvation committees decided against holding a regional political strike for the time being but threatened to go ahead with such a protest if the government does not send a commission to Kemerovo Oblast to deal with the region's payments crisis and provide additional support to the coal industry. -- Penny Morvant MORE DETAILS ON KISIN FIRING. Vadim Kisin, the first senior government official to fall victim to the crackdown on tax evasion, was dismissed after depositing $300,000 in a foreign bank account without paying the appropriate taxes in Russia, AFP reported on 20 November, citing Interfax. Kisin, 34, was deputy minister in charge of CIS affairs until his removal on 19 November. He will now be charged with large-scale tax evasion and faces up to five years in prison and the confiscation of his assets, according to tax officials. Kisin reportedly opened several accounts in West European banks between 1992 and 1994. Investigators found 10 bank cards in his or his parents' names issued by foreign banks. -- Penny Morvant KILLINGS IN TYUMEN, ST. PETERSBURG. Leonid Sidorov, general director of a housing construction company in Tyumen and an aide were killed in a bomb attack in the Siberian oil town on 20 November, ITAR-TASS reported. They were on their way to their office when the explosive device-- apparently remote-controlled--went off. Sidorov was also a Cossack general. Also on 20 November, the agency reported that Sergei Rogov, a businessman from St. Petersburg and the organizer of a "festival of laughter" scheduled to be held this weekend, was shot dead on 19 November. -- Penny Morvant ANOTHER SOLDIER GOES ON SHOOTING SPREE. An Interior Ministry soldier murdered his patrol commander and a private and wounded three others on 20 November while they were escorting a convoy of prisoners at a railway station in Tula Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. The soldier attempted to escape after the shooting but was detained five hours later in a nearby village. The crime is the latest in a series of similar cases in which servicemen have killed their colleagues. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski TENDER FOR AGROPROMBANK. The government announced on 12 November that it will not buy a controlling stake in the financially troubled Agroprombank (APB) but will put the bank up for tender on 22 November, Segodnya reported on 21 November. The decision is opposed by the Duma's Agrarian faction, which worries that a new private owner will not be willing to allow APB to continue making loans to farms, many of which are not repaid. Central Bank officials say that any new investor will be required to ensure that 60% of APB's loans will go to agriculture. The Agrarians also doubt whether any private bidder will come up with the 1 trillion rubles ($180 million) credit the bank requires to resume operations. -- Natalia Gurushina MENATEP TO SELL STAKE IN YUKOS. Menatep bank will become the first bank to sell the government stake that it holds under the 1995 loans-for- shares scheme, Kommersant-Daily reported on 21 November. In December 1995, an intermediary firm Laguna (backed by Menatep, Tokobank, and Stolichnyi Bank) won a loans-for-shares auction by offering a $159 million credit for the state's 45% stake in Russia's second-largest oil company YUKOS. The stake was then transferred under Menatep management. In September 1996, the federal stake held by Menatep was diluted to 33.3% as a result of an additional share issue, needed to help pay off YUKOS's 2.25 trillion ruble wage and tax debts. Menatep plans to sell its stake in an auction slated for 23 December 1996. Its plan has been approved by the Finance Ministry, State Property Committee, Federal Property Fund, and by YUKOS itself. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA AZERBAIJANI FOREIGN MINISTER ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH PEACE TALKS. Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov has refuted Armenian presidential spokesman Levon Zurabyan's statement that Azerbaijan refused to participate in drafting a declaration of principles on a settlement to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 November 1996), Turan reported on 20 November. Hasanov said a draft declaration proposed by the Armenian side contradicts the "interests of Azerbaijan," because it does not respect his country's territorial integrity. -- Emil Danielyan EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION IN ARMENIA. The European Parliament has passed a resolution challenging the legitimacy of the 22 September Armenian presidential election and calling for a new round of elections to be held in those electoral districts where serious violations took place, Noyan Tapan reported on 20 November. The resolution condemned the crackdown on the opposition and the media and called on the Armenian government to adhere to democratic principles. -- Emil Danielyan GEORGIA REINFORCES ITS BORDER TROOPS. Georgia has sent seven warships to patrol its territorial waters amid reports that it plans to deploy an 800-strong police unit along the border with its breakaway Black Sea region of Abkhazia, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 November, citing the Georgian Defense Ministry. A Defense Ministry official described the move as "planned combat duty," yet some observers believe it is connected with the upcoming parliamentary elections in Abkhazia that have been denounced by Georgia and the international community. Georgia does not recognize the legitimacy of holding such elections since some 200,000 ethnic Georgian refugees who fled the region in 1993 are barred from participating in the vote. -- Emil Danielyan KAZAKSTAN AGREES WITH UZBEKISTAN, KYRGYZSTAN ON GAS DEBTS. Kazakstan has signed an agreement with Uzbekistan in Tashkent on paying off its $24 million debt for Uzbek gas, Kazakhstanskaya pravda reported on 19 November. In October, Uzbekistan withheld gas deliveries due to nonpayments and the Kazakstani capital, Almaty, received only half of what it needed for that month, leading to a severe gas deficiency in many households. Besides direct monetary compensation to pay for Uzbek gas, Kazakstan also offered to supply gas from Caspian Sea regions of Kazakstan to western Uzbekistan. Kazakstan is also close to completing a deal with Kyrgyzstan on electricity supplies to southern Kazakstan. The Kyrgyz have agreed to defer Kazakstan's $8 million debt for Kyrgyz electricity but prices for electricity will now be higher. -- Slava Kozlov in Almaty and Bruce Pannier KAZAKSTANI OPPOSITION LEADERS CHARGED WITH VIOLATING PUBLIC ORDER. The Kazakstani government has accused Leonid Solomin, head of the independent confederation of trade unions, of "violating public order" and conducting "unlawful actions" during a recent anti-government rally in Almaty (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 November 1996), KTK TV reported on 20 October. Police have laid similar charges against Peter Svoik, the co-chairman of the opposition Azamat Movement. Before the rally, President Nursultan Nazarbayev had called for the jailing of "all violators of public stability." Meanwhile, the opposition applied to Almaty municipal authorities for permission to hold another demonstration on 1 December. -- Slava Kozlov in Almaty KYRGYZSTAN TIGHTENS CONTROLS OVER RELIGIOUS GROUPS. Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev has ordered all religious groups in Kyrgyzstan to register with the proper authorities within a month, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 November. A source in the Justice Ministry claimed that there are more than 200 religious organizations in the country but only 47 of them are registered. The head of the State Commission on Religious Affairs, Emil Kaptagayev, said the registration of the groups would allow his commission to "compare the tasks and aims of the religious organizations not registered so far with Kyrgyz laws as well as the principles of state security." The Kyrgyz parliament is due to review a new law on religion at the end of this year. -- 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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