|One must learn by doing the thing; though you think you know it, you have no certainty until you try. - Sophocles|
No. 234, Part I, 5 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 FEDERATION COUNCIL DISCUSSES NO-CONFIDENCE VOTE IN GOVERNMENT. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin failed to make a scheduled speech in the Federation Council on 4 December, claiming he was too sick to appear, NTV reported. When Speaker Yegor Stroev announced that Chernomyrdin was not coming, the hall exploded and Vladimir Varnavskii proposed that the Federation Council recommend that the Duma pass a vote of no-confidence in the government. Only Stroev's efforts to calm his colleagues managed to postpone the vote until 5 December. Many council members were angry that Chernomyrdin has not paid back wages and pensions or solved the non-payments crisis. This session marks the first time the upper house has challenged the government so forcefully, and may be a precursor of future disputes now that all the regional executives, who make up half of the house, will be elected rather than appointed by the president. -- Robert Orttung GOVERNMENT LASHES OUT AT PARLIAMENT. The government staff released an official statement late on 4 December denouncing both houses of the legislature. The statement blasted the "constant striving of some Duma members to earn cheap popularity by irresponsibly speculating on urgent and important problems." It also attacked attempts by some Federation Council members to transfer their responsibility for resolving the most serious social problems in the regions exclusively onto the federal executive branch, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung YELTSIN, CHERNOMYRDIN DISCUSS OSCE SUMMIT. Chernomyrdin met with President Boris Yeltsin at the Barvikha sanatorium outside Moscow on 4 December to discuss the Lisbon OSCE summit, Russian and Western agencies reported. Echoing a foreign ministry statement which downplayed Moscow's isolation at the summit, presidential press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the two men concluded that "Moscow's position on a new European security architecture was heard in Lisbon." Yastrzhembskii said the two leaders agreed that preparations for a planned 1997 U.S.- Russian summit should begin, and that Chernomyrdin should travel to Kyiv in the near future to discuss the intractable Black Sea Fleet dispute, which Moscow insists be resolved before the signing of a bilateral friendship and cooperation treaty with Ukraine. Later that day, Yeltsin moved from the sanatorium to continue his convalescence at his nearby country residence. -- Scott Parrish CHECHEN ELECTION COMMITTEE MEETS. The 33 members of the Chechen Elections Committee convened for the first time on 4 December in Grozny to discuss preparations for the 27 January parliamentary and presidential elections, Radio Rossii reported. Implicitly contradicting statements made by OSCE Chechnya mission head Tim Guldimann, chairman Mumadi Saidayev said the committee is adequately financed by the interim Chechen government. To date six candidates have announced their intention to contest the presidency, although none has been formally registered as a candidate. According to Nezavisimaya gazeta of 5 December, the six are acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, interim Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov, former presidential press spokesman (now first Deputy Prime Minister) Movladi Udugov, field commanders Shamil Basaev and Vakha Arsanov, and the chairman of the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus, Yusup Soslambekov. Also on 4 December, a group of unidentified armed men abducted five Russian officers and their driver in Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller DUMA DENOUNCES CHECHEN TROOP WITHDRAWAL, GIVES UP IDEA OF IMPEACHMENT. The State Duma passed a non-binding resolution on 4 December advising Yeltsin to "consider once again the expediency of a complete withdrawal of troops" from Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported. Though the resolution criticizes the Chernomyrdin - Maskhadov accord and Yeltsin's decree ordering the troop withdrawal, saying these decisions continue one-sided concessions to Chechen nationalists, it has a generally conciliatory tone. It omits earlier attempts to impeach the president and vote no- confidence in the government. The resolution orders Procurator General Yurii Skuratov to open an investigation into who started the war. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS LAW ON COURTS. The parliament's upper house failed on 4 December to muster the two-thirds majority needed to pass the constitutional law "on the judicial system of the Russian Federation," Izvestiya reported the following day. At the second attempt, 132 deputies voted for the draft, two short of the number needed. The bill provides for the introduction of the institution of arbitrators to handle civil cases and some petty crimes and gives the president the right to appoint all federal judges, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 3 December. It was opposed by deputies from Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and Kareliya, who argued that it reduces the role of local legislative organs in appointing judges. Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev said Russia's republics will never vote in favor of a judicial system that makes them highly dependent on Moscow. -- Penny Morvant DUMA APPEALS TO YELTSIN ON MILITARY REFORM. With the support of 308 deputies, the Duma passed a resolution appealing to Yeltsin to accelerate the process of military reform, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution called the current financial crisis in the military "inadmissible," and said officers must be paid on time if they are to carry out their normal duties. The same day, however, the Duma agreed to postpone a planned presentation to the chamber on military reform by Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. Rodionov had requested the postponement, saying he could not discuss reform plans with legislators without the approval of Yeltsin. He also complained that the military could not be reformed during the current financial crisis, when it was "struggling for survival," adding, "there is no finance for the reform effort." -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN ORDERS DELEGATION TO KUZBASS. President Yeltsin resolved on 4 December to send a government delegation to the Kuzbass, the coal-mining area at the heart of the current miners' strike over pay arrears, ITAR- TASS reported. The delegation will be headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin said the following day that the government sent 750 billion rubles to the miners on 2 December and will dispatch a further 450 billion. The Russian coal company Rosugol and the miners' union Rosugleprofsoyuz gave differing estimates of the number of miners taking part in the strike's second day. A Rosugol spokeswoman put the number of strikers at 61,000, while union leader Vitalii Budko said about 400,000 were taking part. -- Penny Morvant KURGAN GOVERNOR CANCELS ELECTION RUNOFF; PROCURATOR PROTESTS. In a special dispatch from Moscow, Kurgan Governor Anatolii Sobolev canceled the second round of gubernatorial elections set for 8 December, ITAR- TASS reported on 4 December. Sobolev was eliminated in the first round of voting after winning just over 13% in the three-way race. A runoff was set between opposition-backed Oleg Bogomolov, chairman of the oblast legislature, and businessman Anatolii Koltashev. But then Koltashev, and subsequently Sobolev, refused to participate in the race, leaving only one candidate, which is a violation of Russian law. The Central Electoral Commission informed the Kurgan authorities that they could not proceed with the election with one candidate, but the Kurgan procurator has claimed that the governor's decision to cancel the elections was illegal. In spite of the scandal, preparations for the ballot are continuing. -- Robert Orttung RUSSIAN-IRANIAN ECONOMIC TALKS. First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov met with visiting Iranian Economics and Finance Minister Morteza Mohammad-Khan in Moscow on 4 December to discuss bilateral economic ties, particularly cooperation in the oil and gas sector, ITAR- TASS reported. The Iranian minister is in Moscow for the first meeting of the Russo-Iranian economic cooperation commission since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. At the session, Minister of Foreign Trade Oleg Davydov confirmed that Russia was moving ahead with the controversial deal to complete the unfinished nuclear power station at Bushehr in Southern Iran, which the U.S. opposes, citing nuclear proliferation concerns. During his visit, Mohammad-Khan deplored the current "stagnation" in bilateral trade, which dropped from $1.4 billion in 1991 to about $200 million in 1995 and is expected to reach $350 million this year. -- Scott Parrish TAX DEBTORS PAY UP. The head of the Federal Bankruptcy Administration, Petr Mostovoi, told a press conference on 4 December that of 1,025 businesses threatened with bankruptcy at the start of the year, 500 have paid their tax debts and 200 others were placed in liquidation, ITAR- TASS, AFP, and Kommersant Daily reported. Tax collection in November reached 20.1 trillion rubles ($3.6 billion), 40% up on the previous month, although total federal tax debts still stand at 61 trillion rubles (of which 30 trillion date back to 1995). Mostovoi said bankruptcy proceedings had begun against seven major firms, including the Moskvich auto plant, Krasnodar oil refinery, Achinsk Aluminum Combine, and West Siberian Metal Combine. Mostovoi noted that 1,600 firms still owe more than 3 billion rubles each. His agency seems to be stepping up its activity, not least because in two weeks the IMF will reconsider the suspension of its Russian loan. -- Peter Rutland DUMA APPROVES TAX MEASURES. The State Duma on 4 December passed on first reading a package of tax measures requested by the government, ITAR-TASS reported. They include an alcohol excise duty of 12,000 rubles ($2.2) per liter of spirits and 700 rubles per liter of beer, a 15% tax on profits from trades in T-bills, a tax on interest income, and preservation of tax credits for manufacturers. They also approved a tax on the purchase of foreign currency, at a rate to be decided later - probably 1.5%. The government has tried to reassure the Duma that the 1997 budget will help stimulate investment and revive production. The draft budget includes planned investment spending of 28.4 trillion rubles, up from 10 trillion this year, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 4 December. In addition the government will issue investment guarantees for industrial bonds worth 65 trillion rubles. -- Peter Rutland CURRENCY AND EXPORT CONTROL AGENCY REGAINS MINISTERIAL STATUS. President Yeltsin has signed a decree reinstating the ministerial status of the Federal Currency and Export Control Service (VEK), Kommersant-Daily reported on 5 December. VEK, set up in 1992, was disbanded in August 1996 and most of its functions (such as preventing illegal outflow of capital) were taken over by the Finance Ministry. The reappearance of VEK may mean tighter monitoring of export and import contracts, which has been opposed by the Justice Ministry and the IMF. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ENERGY TARIFFS TO RISE IN ARMENIA. Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan on 4 December said the government will raise energy tariffs by 40% starting in January, Noyan Tapan reported the same day. Sarkisyan said the decision was taken in accordance with the 4 March agreement with the World Bank which made its loans to Armenia contingent on bringing energy prices closer to world ones. Armenia has undergone severe energy shortages and winter rationing since the war in Nagorno-Karabakh broke out in 1992. The crisis has been substantially alleviated by the reopening of the Medzamor nuclear plant in summer 1995. -- Emil Danielyan HELSINKI WATCH PROTESTS TO ALIEV. The Helsinki Watch human rights organization has sent a letter to President Heydar Aliev protesting the handling by the Azerbaijani authorities of the criminal case against former Defense Minister Rahim Ghaziev, Turan reported on 4 December. The letter said that Gaziev was repeatedly not allowed to meet with his relatives or his lawyer, who so far has only had one meeting with his client. Gaziev was Azerbaijan's defense minister in the government of former President Abulfaz Elchibey, and fled to Russia after Aliev came to power in June 1993. Gaziev was charged with the "surrender" of the Shusha and Lachin towns to Armenian forces in May 1992 and sentenced to death in absentia. He was extradited by Russia in April 1996 at Azerbaijan's request. -- Emil Danielyan TAJIK FIGHTING CONTINUES, MOVES CLOSER TO CAPITAL. An attempt by Tajik government forces to retake the city of Garm has been repelled by opposition forces who captured the city last week, Russian sources report. Opposition forces used artillery and tanks to drive back government troops. Attacks have also been reported as close as 13 kilometers from the capital Dushanbe. A Russian helicopter came under gun and grenade fire at Dushanbe airport on 4 December. -- Bruce Pannier HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH BLASTS TAJIKISTAN, KYRGYZSTAN. In its seventh annual human rights survey, the organization Human Rights Watch notes a dramatic deterioration of democratic principles in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported on 5 December. On Kyrgyzstan, HRW pointed to government repression of the media, suspension of freedom of speech and association, the continued existence of residence permits and internal passports, and the "alarming" consolidation of power by President Askar Akayev. HRW also questioned the constitutionality of the rescheduled presidential elections of December 1995. Tajikistan, which has been criticized for the last five years for its record on human rights, was described as having its "worst year" in 1996. The report also condemned decisions by the IMF and World Bank to lend money to Tajikistan despite the country's disregard for human rights. -- Bruce Pannier RUSSIAN STATION PULLED FROM AIR IN KAZAKSTAN. The Kazakstani National Agency for Press and Mass Media decided to stop airing the Russian Television (RTR) station, according to 4 December reports from ITAR-TASS and Radio Mayak. The reason given was lack of funding. The Russian Public Television station (ORT) will continue to have its programing shown in Kazakstan. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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