|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
No. 233, Part I, 4 December 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, SELEZNEV MEET TO DISCUSS BUDGET. President Boris Yeltsin and Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev met on 3 December to discuss ways to pass the 1997 budget. Yeltsin expressed his displeasure with the Duma's recent actions, warning that they were not helping to stabilize society, Russian TV reported. Seleznev distanced himself from Deputy Duma Speaker Sergei Baburin's attempts to place a no-confidence vote on the Duma's agenda, NTV reported. The meeting was the second between Yeltsin and Seleznev; the first was on 21 October. The president has yet to participate in a meeting of the "permanent four" Consultative Council, and, for the time being, is happy to meet with its members one by one, Kommersant-Daily reported on 4 December. Seleznev said that Yeltsin would return to work full-time at the end of December. -- Robert Orttung CONTROVERSY CONTINUES OVER GROUND FORCES COMMANDER. As the scandal surrounding Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's attempt to dismiss Army Gen. Vladimir Semenov as Ground Forces commander intensified, the Defense Ministry announced that Rodionov had postponed his scheduled 5 December visit to the U.S., Russian and Western media reported on 3 December. Russian commentators linked the decision, for which no official explanation was offered, to the imbroglio over Semenov's ouster. Further distancing Yeltsin from the move to dismiss Semenov on misconduct charges, presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 3 December that while Yeltsin had approved the sacking "in principle," he had left the justification for the dismissal in Rodionov's hands. He added that Semenov is temporarily suspended from his post pending a final decision by the president. Meanwhile, Semenov protested his dismissal in a letter to Yeltsin, vowing to fight the misconduct allegations "until the end." -- Scott Parrish MASKHADOV TO RUN FOR CHECHEN PRESIDENT. Chechen interim Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov told journalists in Grozny on 3 December that he will definitely contest the presidential election scheduled for 27 January 1997, Russian and Western agencies reported. Acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev had told ITAR-TASS on 2 December that he favored a single candidate representing the Chechen opposition forces; this approach has been rejected both by Maskhadov and by field commander Vakha Arsanov, who was nominated as a presidential candidate by the Party of National Independence of Chechnya on 2 December. Also on 3 December, a spokesman for the European Commission announced that it has allocated an additional $2.8 million in humanitarian aid for Chechnya, according to AFP. -- Liz Fuller MINERS' STRIKE CONTINUES. Tens of thousands of miners are striking for a second day in Kemerovo Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 December. According to the Russian Coal-Industry Workers' Union (Rosugleprofsoyuz), workers at 161 of the country's 189 mines and 27 of 69 open pits stopped work on 3 December to protest wage arrears. The coal company Rosugol said work stopped at about 100 mines and 23 open pits. According to Rosugleprofsoyuz Chairman Vitalii Budko, miners are owed 2.6 trillion rubles ($470 million) in back wages and 1.5 trillion in subsidies; another 8 trillion rubles are owed by coal customers. Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said all federal budget allocations have been paid out. The miners are also seeking the resignation of the government. The stoppage is opposed by the Independent Miners' Union, NTV reported. -- Penny Morvant TVER PENSIONERS PROTEST. About 80 pensioners blocked a railway line near Tver for four-and-a-half hours on 3 December to demand the payment of their pensions on time, ITAR-TASS reported. The protest delayed one service between Moscow and St. Petersburg and several trains between Moscow and Tver. A spokeswoman for the Russian Pension Fund said on 3 December that the fund owed pensioners 17.5 trillion rubles ($3.2 billion) at the beginning of December. The worst situation is in Kemerovo Oblast, where pensioners have still not received August payments. -- Penny Morvant SARATOV SETS UP SECURITY COUNCIL. Saratov Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov has set up a regional security council, the first such body in an oblast, Radio Mayak reported on 3 December. It will handle questions concerning the vital interests of the oblast and individual rights, state, economic and ecological security, and try to predict emergency situations and deal with their consequences. Ayatskov named police Col. Aleksandr Kosygin as the council's secretary. Three years ago he was the director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs' Saratov branch. Like its federal counterpart, the Saratov Security Council will try to coordinate the actions of the existing branches of the oblast government. -- Robert Orttung CONGRESS OF JUDGES OPENS IN MOSCOW. The fourth all-Russian Congress of Judges opened in Mosow on 3 December to discuss the crisis in the judical system, Russian media reported. The state owes the courts 540 billion rubles ($100 million) from this year's budget. Wages are low and paid late, courts are understaffed--there are more than 1,200 vacancies for judges--and trials are delayed. Nine district courts in Kaluga Oblast recently stopped work due to lack of funds. Before the congress opened, President Yeltsin signed a decree on stabilizing the judicial system. It promises to pay wage arrears to judges and other court workers by the end of this year and orders the Interior Ministry to take steps to provide judges with weapons in 1997. A Moscow judge was killed in her office earlier this year by a defendant. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski and Penny Morvant RUSSIA ISOLATED AT OSCE SUMMIT. Russia's proposal that the OSCE, not NATO, play the leading coordinating role in a new European security architecture was effectively rebuffed as the OSCE summit in Lisbon ended on 3 December, Izvestiya reported on 4 December. The most Moscow could accomplish was the omission of any mention of the disputed issue of NATO expansion in the final summit communique, which tried to please everyone by declaring that no new dividing lines should be created in Europe, while also stating that each country has the right to choose its own means of assuring its security, NTV reported. Russia also found itself in the minority on other issues, RFE/RL reported, pressing for the omission of criticism of Serbia from the final communique, and also defending Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka against charges that he has violated democratic norms and principles. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA WARNS U.S. OVER "SUBCRITICAL" BOMB TESTS. Responding to a 2 December report in The San Francisco Examiner that the U.S. Energy Department is planning a series of test explosions involving small amounts of fissile uranium and plutonium, Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy spokesman Georgii Kaurov said any nuclear explosion would be a violation of the recently-signed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, ITAR- TASS reported on 3 December. Kaurov said the treaty contained no minimum threshold for nuclear explosions, and argued that "if an explosion sets off a chain reaction, the treaty will be violated ... no matter what amount of fissionable material is used." U.S. officials insist the planned tests will not trigger a chain reaction and are hence permissible under the CTBT, although American critics claim they will undermine the treaty by violating its spirit. -- Scott Parrish TROPHY ART ON DISPLAY. The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg on 3 December opened its third exhibition of art transferred from Germany to the Soviet Union in 1945, Nevskoe Vremya reported. The museum put on display 89 drawings of 13 European artists of the late 18th-early 20th centuries, including works by Goya and Van Gogh. All were taken from private collections and kept hidden for half a century. The first exhibition of the trophy masterpieces opened in the Hermitage in the spring of 1995 and sparked a dispute between Germany and Russia over ownership rights. Considering the booty art as part of compensation for enormous losses in World War II, Russia is reluctant to return it to the former owners, despite the Germans' strong legal claims on the art. "We need to get ready for long and serious negotiations with the German side to decide the fate of the transferred art," Hermitage Director Mikhail Piotrovskii said. -- Elena Zotova in St. Petersburg INTERNATIONAL MONEY LAUNDERING IS WELL ENTRENCHED. The OECD has issued a report analyzing the work of the Financial Action Task Force, which was set up by a G-7 summit in 1989 to combat money laundering, RFE/RL reported on 3 December. The report concludes that Russian and East European gangs are very active in laundering money from drug-running, prostitution, car theft, extortion, and corrupt privatization deals. They have established a broad network of legitimate businesses to convert the illicit receipts into legal assets. Favorite channels include the purchase of real estate, art works, and the tourism business. -- Peter Rutland AVTOVAZ BANKRUPTCY AVERTED? The government and the management of AvtoVaz have agreed to a plan to avert the auto manufacturer's bankruptcy, issuing additional shares worth 50% of its authorized capital over the next two months, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 December. The government had threatened to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against AvtoVaz, which owed 2.8 trillion rubles ($508 million) in federal taxes (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 November 1996). First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin noted that it is best for AvtoVaz to find a strategic investor, such as BMW, Ford or Opel. Initially, government officials favored Fiat, which founded AvtoVaz, but the Italian company said that it had no interest in taking over the company. -- Ritsuko Sasaki TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA LAST-MINUTE OSCE COMPROMISE ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH. A last-minute compromise wording proposed by the U.S. prevented Armenia and Azerbaijan from vetoing the final communique by the OSCE summit in Lisbon, international media reported on 3 December. Armenia had objected to an article of the draft communique which upheld Azerbaijan's territorial integrity as a guiding principle for settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The provision was included following vigorous efforts by Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliev, who said he would block the entire document unless it formally recognized Nagorno-Karabakh as part of Azerbaijan. Austrian Chancellor Franz Vranitzky told RFE/RL that Flavio Cotti, the Swiss chairman of the OSCE, might condemn Azerbaijan's tactic. Yet, according to CNN, Aliev's position was strongly backed by the European Union. As a result of the compromise, the contentious language was removed from the final communique and adopted as a separate document. -- Emil Danielyan GEORGIAN-RUSSIAN MILITARY TALKS. Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze and his Russian counterpart Igor Rodionov met on 3 December in Moscow to discuss "issues of mutual interest," no details of which were subsequently disclosed, ITAR-TASS reported. On the same day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreev told journalists that at last week's round of inter-governmental Russian-Georgian talks in Tbilisi, the Georgian side "raised or repeated some problems that do not promote Russian-Georgian relations." Specifically, Georgia refused to endorse a Russian draft agreement on developing military cooperation. Agreement has also not been reached on payment in Georgian laris to finance the presence of Russian troops in Georgia. -- Liz Fuller KYRGYZ MINISTRIES CUT. President Askar Akayev signed a number of decrees on 2 December, reducing the number of ministries in the Kyrgyz government from 22 to 15 and cutting the government staff by 3,000 people, RFE/RL reported. Among the changes, former Finance Minister Kemelbek Nanayev was appointed First Deputy Prime Minister and is replaced by Taalaibek Koichumanov, the former economics minister. The economics ministry ceases to exist. The ministries of education, culture, and agriculture and water were combined. Akayev's decree on cutting personnel will effect 30% of the presidential and parliamentary staffs, 20% of government and ministerial officials and at least 10% of local government staffs. On 25 November Akayev signed a decree allowing private ownership of land, effective on 1 January. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov KAZAKSTANI PENSIONERS DEMAND RESULTS. The Pensioner's Fund of Kazakstan has appealed to local government officials to take action in paying arrears to pensioners, who in some cases have not been paid for several months, according to a 3 December ITAR-TASS report. Unpaid pensions total 40 million tenge (about $545,000) despite government efforts to free money for payments. Inspectors have found many cases of pension money being loaned by state officials to commercial enterprises or as short-term loans for quick profits, some funds being simply embezzled or misappropriated. The ITAR-TASS report claims some pensioners have given up on using official channels and are engaging in actions such as blocking roads and rail lines to bring attention to their plight. -- Bruce Pannier MINISTRY ABOLISHED IN TURKMENISTAN. Turkmenistan's Ministry of Construction and Architecture was abolished by presidential decree on 3 December, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In an address to ministry personnel, President Saparmurat Niyazov charged that the ministry's enterprises have been unprofitable, operate at 50% of their capacity and construct facilities which are substandard. The industry is to be de- centralized with existing enterprises shared out between regional administrations, the republic's ministries of building materials, power- engineering, and Turkmenneftgaz. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. 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