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No. 229, Part I, 26 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 ILYUKHIN SEEKS IMPEACHMENT OR NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE. Following the decision to withdraw troops from Chechnya, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin called for discussing the impeachment of President Boris Yeltsin and voting no confidence in the government at the Duma's special hearing on 29 November, Reuters reported on 25 November. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said that the Duma would consider action against the executive branch if it had violated the constitution but impeachment was not an option now, Russian TV (RTR) and Ekho Moskvy reported. A statement from the Popular-Patriotic Union (NPSR) published in Sovetskaya Rossiya on 26 November, however, limited itself to asking the Constitutional Court to examine the decisions, calling for an extraordinary meeting of the Security Council, and calling an extraordinary NPSR congress. Impeaching the president is extremely difficult and the Duma has backed down from no-confidence votes in the past because the president can call new parliamentary elections if the Duma votes no confidence twice in three months. -- Robert Orttung KABARDINO-BALKARIYA PRESIDENT TO RUN UNOPPOSED. The incumbent president of Kabardino-Balkariya, Valerii Kokov, was the only candidate to submit documents by 25 November, the deadline to register for the 12 January 1997 elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Several months ago, Kokov had declared his republic the most stable in the North Caucasus, but on 17 November a congress of Balkar people revived earlier demands to set up a separate Balkar Republic. Kokov has strongly denounced the separatists and a criminal case has been filed against them. Kokov was elected to a five-year term on 5 January 1992. -- Robert Orttung MAVRODI'S WIFE AND CHESS CHAMPION TO RUN FOR DUMA SEAT. Yelena Mavrodi, the wife of the infamous MMM pyramid-scheme operator Sergei Mavrodi, and FIDE world chess champion Anatoly Karpov, have announced their intention to run for a Duma seat in Tula Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. They must gather 4, 518 signatures before 15 December to register. Yelena Mavrodi campaigned unsuccessfully for a Duma seat in Kolomna in 1995. (See OMRI Daily Digest, 10 April and 16 May, 1995.) The only candidate officially registered so far in Tula Oblast for the 9 February 1997 elections is former Yeltsin Security Service chief Aleksander Korzhakov. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski KAZAKSTANI PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his visiting Kazakstani counterpart Akezhan Kazhegeldin signed three economic agreements in Moscow on 25 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreements covered agricultural equipment, scientific- technical cooperation, and the broadcasting of each country's television programs. Chernomyrdin said that the two countries have "no major differences," while Kazhegeldin termed Russia a "strategic partner" for Kazakstan. Chernomyrdin added, however, that the "main task" facing Russia and Kazakstan is making more rapid progress toward economic integration. Although it was signed with much fanfare this spring, for example, the March 1996 quadripartite Russia-Belarus-Kazakstan- Kyrgyzstan integration accord has remained largely unimplemented. -- Scott Parrish U.S. BLOCKS SUPERCOMPUTER EXPORTS TO RUSSIA. The U.S. Commerce Department has refused to grant export licenses to IBM and a Hewlett- Packard subsidiary, blocking them from selling high-speed computers to the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy, The Journal of Commerce reported on 25 November. The computers were intended for the Arzamas-16 (Kremlev) and Chelyabinsk-70 (Snezhinsk) research laboratories, where they would have helped Russian weapons designers conduct simulated nuclear explosions, improving the safety and reliability of the Russian nuclear arsenal while assuring adherence to the recently-signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. American critics of the proposed sale had argued that the computers would be used to improve Russian weapons design, injuring U.S. national security. The paper said Russian weapons designers had viewed the computer sales as linked to Russia's signing of the CTBT, and may now push to resume nuclear testing. -- Scott Parrish FINNO-RUSSIAN TRANSPORT DISPUTE. Finnish trade unions on 25 November launched an indefinite boycott of all Russian trucks, refusing to load or unload trailers from Russia until a dispute over border charges is resolved, ITAR-TASS reported. The boycott is in protest against taxes and fees imposed by Russian border guards on Finnish trucks crossing the Russo-Finnish border. The unions claim the fees are illegal and inconsistent with bilateral border agreements, but several rounds of intergovernmental talks have failed to resolve the dispute. The unions also are demanding increased security for Finnish truck drivers in Russia, who are frequently robbed or hijacked, and protesting the increasing use of Russian drivers by Finnish firms exporting to Russia. According to the agency, 50% of truck traffic in Finland is now conducted by lower-cost Russian trucks and drivers. -- Scott Parrish CONCERN OVER INCREASED USE OF KOMPROMAT. The Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes, chaired by Anatolii Vengerov, has expressed concern over the increased use of the media to disseminate material aimed at compromising a business or political rival, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 November. The chamber noted that anonymous sources or illegally obtained information are often cited as proof of scandalous disclosures, arguing that such practices flout the presumption of innocence, damage the reputation of individuals and organizations, and "run counter to the spirit and letter of legislation on the media" and journalistic ethics. It also criticized the slow response of law enforcement bodies to such publications. A flood of articles have recently appeared in the press accusing prominent figures of criminal offenses and cover-ups. The chamber is an advisory body. -- Penny Morvant COMMUNICATIONS WORKERS THREATEN TO DISRUPT HOLIDAY BROADCASTS. Workers at radio and television transmitter stations are threatening to disrupt broadcasts over the New Year holidays if back wages are not paid, ITAR- TASS reported on 25 November. Communications workers are owed 92 billion rubles and have not been paid for three to six months. On 20 November, workers at a Murmansk transmission center, who have not been paid for six months, staged a one-hour strike, disrupting ORT, RTR, and St. Petersburg Channel 5 programs in several northern cities. In general, however, such disputes tend to be resolved before broadcasts are canceled. -- Penny Morvant POLL SHOWS MAGNITUDE OF WAGE ARREARS PROBLEM. Only 22% of respondents in a recent poll received their wages in full and on time, Izvestiya reported on 26 November. The survey, which involved about 1,500 Russian citizens, was carried out by the Public Opinion foundation in mid- November. Sixty-two percent of the respondents were not paid on time, while another 16% did not work. Residents of small towns and villages were the most likely to be paid late in October (70% of those surveyed), while Muscovites were in the best position. Of the residents of the capital surveyed, 64% were paid on time and only 18% suffered wage delays. -- Penny Morvant GOVERNMENT PICKS RUSSIAN BANKS FOR TELECOM PRIVATIZATION. The Russian government is expected to announce on 26 November the cancellation of the planned public sale of $1 billion worth of shares in the state-owned telecom companies Rostelekom and Svyazinvest, AFP and the Financial Times reported the same day. The sale was being prepared by a Western consortium headed by N.M. Rothschild and in part funded by the World Bank. Last week the government apparently decided to switch the project to Alfa Bank and the Most group, two of the largest donors to Yeltsin's election campaign. One can expect that the flotation of telecom shares will now be confined to insider bidders, along the lines of the 1995 loans-for-shares auctions. One Western observer opined that "This will be the biggest scandal yet in the sorry history of Russian privatization." -- Peter Rutland RUSSIA WILL REPAY TSARIST DEBT TO FRANCE. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the Russian government will repay the debt to French holders of tsarist bonds, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on 25 November. He did not elaborate on details of the repayment mechanism. France ranked first in the total volume of foreign investment in late- imperial Russia and was the largest official creditor of the tsarist government. The French Association for holders of Russian bonds claims that the tsarist debt (including interest accrued since 1917) totals $27-31 billion. Russian officials, however, insist on taking into account the value of Russian assets seized by French authorities when the Bolshevik government refused to honor tsarist debts after 1917. Due to the rumors surrounding the redemption of tsarist bonds, the French stock market authorities temporarily suspended trade in tsarist securities. -- Natalia Gurushina BANKING SYSTEM REVIEW. Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin said that only 38% of all Russian banks are stable, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 November. In Moscow and the Moscow Oblast this figure is 51%, while in the Far East it is as low as 14%. According to a Finansovye izvestiya report on 26 November, the number of banks declined from 2,295 to 2,090 in the first 10 months of the year. The number of commercial bank branches fell from 5,581 to 5,218 and those of Sberbank (Savings Bank) from 38,567 to 34,326 over the same period. The banking system's capitalization increased from 11 trillion rubles ($2.3 billion) in January to 17 trillion rubles ($3.1 billion) in October. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA NAGORNO-KARABAKH TALKS DEADLOCKED. Yet another round of negotiations to settle the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, which began on 18 November in Finland, have failed to make any progress, RFE/RL reported on 25 November. The parties could not agree on a declaration of principles for ending the conflict that was intended to be signed at the OSCE's upcoming summit in Lisbon. Observers note that, as a result, the summit will probably adopt a nonbinding statement urging all sides to reach a peaceful resolution. Diplomats who attended the talks said there was a "slight movement" in Azerbaijan's position, whereas the positions of Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh representatives remained unchanged. Armenia's chief presidential aide Gerard Libaridian said his country will veto any document at the Lisbon summit that runs counter to its interests, according to RFE/RL. In other news, commenting on the 24 November presidential election in Nagorno-Karabakh, chairman of Azerbaijan's Supreme Court Hanlar Hajiev said it was the "result of the thoughtless policy of Russia," Turan reported on 25 November. -- Emil Danielyan MORE CRITICISM OF ABKHAZ ELECTIONS. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in his regular Monday radio broadcast on 25 November, condemned as "a serious mistake" and "a political farce" the parliamentary elections in Abkhazia on 23 November, Reuters reported. A Russian Foreign Ministry statement released on 25 November and quoted by Radio Rossii similarly asserted that the elections constituted "a violation of universally accepted norms of human rights and basic civic liberties" and willfully ignored international public opinion. -- Liz Fuller ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTY'S OFFICE REOPENED. The office of the National Democratic Union (AZhM) was reopened on 25 November. It was sealed on 25 September by police following violent protests by opposition supporters against the official results of the presidential election. An AZhM representative told Noyan Tapan that the office suffered serious material damage and that the party's property has not yet been returned by the Interior Ministry. -- Emil Danielyan KAZAKSTANI LOWER HOUSE PASSES LANGUAGE LAW. The lower house of the Kazakstani parliament approved a language law on 22 November, according to ITAR-TASS. After "three days of heated debates" it was decided that ethnic Kazaks would be required to know the state language (Kazak) by January 2001 while the Russian-speaking population must know Kazak by January 2006. Television and radio must broadcast at least half their programming in the state language. Also mentioned was that the state language is used along with Russian in "all types of military formations." On 20 November Aman Tuleyev, the Russian Minister for Cooperation with CIS States, warned that passing such a law could lead to a mass exodus of Russia-speakers from Kazakstan. -- Bruce Pannier TAJIK PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER TO MEET IN DECEMBER. Western sources reported on 25 November that Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov will meet United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri on 9 December in northern Afghanistan. The exact location of the meeting has not been disclosed. The meeting will lay the groundwork for a 23 December "official" meeting in Moscow. Expectations are that an agreement on power sharing will be signed at the Moscow meeting. Opposition forces have moved steadily westward since early 1996 and are now about 80 kilometers east of the capital Dushanbe. -- Bruce Pannier UZBEK PARLIAMENT OPENS WITH HUMAN RIGHTS AGENDA. The 7th session of the Oliy Majlis opened on 26 November with a list of "democratization" proposals on the agenda, Uzbek TV reported. The steering committee of the legislature, under the leadership of speaker Erkin Khalilov, met on 22 November to set the agenda, which includes the creation of a government institution designed to ensure that legislation abides by international standards of "democracy and human rights." In addition, the Oliy Majlis is expected to pass legislation on political parties, the protection of independent journalists, and greater access to state information. While other legislation will be considered, it is evident that this session will be marked as one in which human rights became a high priority for the government, Uzbek officials note. -- Roger Kangas [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ SUBSCRIBING/UNSUBSCRIBING 1) Compose a message to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU 2) To subscribe, write: SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L FirstName LastName (include your own name) To unsubscribe, write: UNSUBSCRIBE OMRI-L 3) Send the message BACK ISSUES Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through the World Wide Web, by FTP and by E-mail. 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