|The greatest happiness is to know the source of unhappiness. - Dostoevsky|
No. 238, Part I, 11 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 RODIONOV BECOMES FIRST CIVILIAN DEFENSE MINISTER . . . Dispelling rumors that he might dismiss Igor Rodionov, President Boris Yeltsin instead issued a decree on 11 December retiring Rodionov from the military but leaving him in his ministerial post, Russian and Western agencies reported. Rodionov will be the country's first civilian defense minister since it became independent in 1991. Army Gen. Rodionov reached 60, the mandatory retirement age for Russian officers, on 1 December. Both sides of the political spectrum quickly criticized Yeltsin's decision. Duma member Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) termed it "purely symbolic," while Duma Security Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (KPRF) argued it would undermine discipline in the military. -- Scott Parrish . . . WHILE CHUBAIS INVESTIGATES "SEMENOV AFFAIR." Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 10 December that President Yeltsin has instructed Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais to "thoroughly study" the circumstances surrounding Rodionov's proposal to dismiss Army Gen. Vladimir Semenov as commander of the ground forces, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii said Semenov had asked for such an investigation in a letter to Yeltsin. It remains unclear whether Semenov will be dismissed or on what grounds, as the earlier allegations of misconduct and corruption appear to have been dropped. -- Scott Parrish CHERNOMYRDIN ADDRESSES FEDERATION COUNCIL. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised on 10 December that the government will meet all its current wage and pension commitments and pay off many of its debts to the budget sector by the end of the year. He told the Federation Council that 7.9 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion) will be earmarked for wages, of which almost 4 trillion will go to the army, 650 billion to miners, 1.5 trillion to education, 285 billion to the courts, 146 billion to prosecutors, 71 billion to the media, 460 billion to the health service, and 730 billion to the state administration, Kommersant- Daily reported on 11 December. He said the remaining debt to the army and pensioners should be paid off early next year and stressed the importance of passing the 1997 budget. Chernomyrdin was sharply criticized by the upper house last week for failing to make a scheduled appearance on 4 December. -- Penny Morvant CHECHEN ROUNDUP. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin met with the head of the OSCE mission in Grozny, Tim Guldimann, on 10 December to discuss arrangements for the OSCE and the Council of Europe to monitor the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in Chechnya on 27 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Rybkin also met with the Russian chairman of the Russian-Chechen joint commission, Georgii Kurin, to discuss the implementation of President Boris Yeltsin's 23 November decree on the withdrawal of the last Russian troops still stationed in Chechnya. The Chechen parliament has issued an appeal to the parliaments of other CIS states to take a stand on the proposed participation of Chechen parliament deputies in the work of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December, citing Interfax. -- Liz Fuller NEW INGUSH PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED. One day after sacking his republic's government for economic mismanagement and possible corruption, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev appointed a new prime minister, Belan Khamchiev, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Khamchiev previously served as Ingush commissioner to the Russian president. The ousted prime minister, Mukharbek Didigov, said it is "normal" for governments to be dismissed for failing to meet economic targets but denied any personal involvement in corruption. Meanwhile, Ingush parliament Chairman Ruslan Pliev praised Aushev's decision, saying Didigov's cabinet had been extremely inefficient. -- Laura Belin NEW AIRBORNE FORCES COMMANDER APPOINTED. In a decree dated 4 December, President Yeltsin appointed Lt.-Gen. Georgii Shpak commander of the Airborne Forces, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Shpak, 53, served in the paratroops from 1966 to 1988 and fought in Afghanistan. His son, also an officer, was reportedly killed in Chechnya. Shpak is a graduate of the Frunze and General Staff academies, and a former commander of the 76th Airborne Division. Before his appointment as airborne forces commander, he was first deputy commander of the Volga military district. Shpak replaces Yevgenii Podkolzin, who was officially retired in October but widely believed to have been sacked for his opposition to Defense Minister Rodionov's plans to downsize the airborne forces. -- Scott Parrish MOSCOW STANDS FIRM AGAINST NATO EXPANSION. NATO's recent moves to assuage Moscow's fears over the alliance's eastward expansion have not eased Moscow's opposition to the idea, Russian and Western media reported on 11 December. Despite the 10 December declaration by NATO foreign ministers that the alliance has no plans to deploy nuclear weapons on the territories of new members, and their endorsement of negotiations on a formal NATO-Russia charter, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov termed the expansion of the alliance "unacceptable" following a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. Primakov welcomed the proposal to begin talks on a NATO-Russia agreement but said it must contain "concrete arrangements," signalling that Moscow wants it to contain legally binding security guarantees. -- Scott Parrish MINERS' PROTESTS CONTINUE. About 2,000 people took part in a rally in Tula on 10 December organized by miners from the Moscow coal basin, ITAR-TASS reported. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of the president and government as well as the payment of wage arrears totaling about 100 billion rubles. About 16,000 miners from Tula are taking part in the national miners' strike, which entered its ninth day on 11 December. Ivan Mokhnachuk, deputy head of the miners' union Rosugleprofsoyuz, said the future of the strike, which has been losing momentum, would be discussed following the return of First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin from the Kuzbass coal basin. According to an ORT report, there have been 164 strikes involving more than 300,000 miners in the Kuzbass this year. -- Penny Morvant NUCLEAR INDUSTRY WORKERS PROTEST. About 100 employees of nuclear missile production facilities picketed the Finance Ministry in Moscow on 10 December to demand the payment of wage arrears. According to union representatives cited by ITAR-TASS, wage arrears now total 550 billion rubles, while the government owes an additional 2.5 trillion for state contracts. Employees have not been paid for two to six months. Trud on 10 December noted that funds are not being allocated to finance the storage of nuclear warheads, posing a threat to security. -- Penny Morvant RUSSIA SEEKS ENTRY TO WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION. Speaking at the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Singapore on 10 December, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov said that he expects Russia to join the 125- country organization by the end of 1997, Reuters reported. Davydov argued that Russia has already abolished all quota restrictions on imports. Russia originally applied to join the WTO's predecessor, GATT, in 1993. Its application has been held up by lack of clarity over industrial subsidies and trade statistics. The same day ITAR-TASS reported that Russia's trade turnover in the first 10 months of 1996 was up 7.2% over the same period last year, with exports of $71 billion and imports $38 billion (not including any allowance for individual "shuttle traders"). Trade with CIS countries accounted for 23% of the total. -- Peter Rutland SIDANKO TO SELL FEDERAL STAKE. The Federal Property Fund will hold an investment auction for a 51% federal stake in the Sidanko oil company, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December. The stake is currently held by the Mezhdunarodnaya Finansovaya Kompaniya, which won it in return for a $130 million loan to the government in December 1995. This is the second stake won in last year's loans-for-shares auctions to be sold off: in November, Menatep bank announced it would sell its 33% stake in the oil company YUKOS (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 November 1996). Meanwhile, the oil firm Tatneft (which was threatened with bankruptcy by the special tax commission in October) has become the second Russian company alongside Gazprom to successfully float its shares (10% of the equity capital) at the London Stock Exchange in the form of American Depository Receipts. -- Natalia Gurushina BANKS PROVIDE CREDIT TO ZIL. The Moscow government has signed a 246 billion ruble ($45 million) credit agreement with six banks to finance the rehabilitation of the local truck manufacturer ZIL, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December. The one-year loan, bearing a 48% annual interest rate, is secured against a 100% equity stake in the Rossiya hotel worth 400 billion rubles. The Moscow government bought a 60% stake in ZIL in September 1996 to prevent it from going bankrupt. Moscow authorities are also working on a rehabilitation deal for another debt- ridden auto plant, the AZLK (Moskvich) factory. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA THREE DASHNAK PARTY MEMBERS SENTENCED TO DEATH IN ARMENIA. Armenia's Supreme Court on 10 December sentenced to death three members of the banned Dashnak party (HHD) on charges of terrorism after a trial that lasted more than 16 months, international agencies reported. Arsen Ardzrouni (a Lebanese citizen of Armenian origin), Armen Grigoryan, and Armenak Mnjoyan have been convicted of forming a clandestine armed group called Dro and committing three murders. Eight other members of the alleged group were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years. The lawyers of the defendants can appeal the verdict within a week. President Levon Ter-Petrossyan suspended the activities of the HHD in December 1994 on the grounds that Dro was affiliated with the party and planned to overthrow the government. But according to RFE/RL, the three-member panel of judges ruled that there is not enough evidence to prove a connection between HHD and Dro. -- Emil Danielyan 19 FORMER OPON MEMBERS ARRESTED IN AZERBAIJAN. Elchin Amiraslanov, the former commander of the OPON special police sub-division in Kazakh Raion, was arrested in Baku on 10 December along with 18 of his associates, Turan and Western agencies reported. In March 1995, the OPON unit occupied the local administrative building to protest a planned crackdown on their involvement in the illegal export of strategic metals; the incident precipitated a showdown between OPON commander Rovshaan Djavadov and Azerbaijani army troops in which the former was killed. Amiraslanov, who subsequently fled to Ukraine, will be charged with treason and the murder of several high-ranking security officials in October 1995. Azerbaijani parliament speaker Yagub Mamedov has denied reports of Amiraslanov's arrest, according to Turan. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIAN STATE DUMA SPEAKER IN TBILISI. Gennadii Seleznev met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Minister of State Niko Lekishvili on 10 December to discuss bilateral relations and the Abkhaz conflict, Russian and Western agencies reported. Shevardnadze and Seleznev said they favor expediting the ratification of a handful of bilateral treaties, including one on friendship and cooperation, and Seleznev affirmed his support for Georgia's territorial integrity, according to ORT. Also on 10 December, a UN human rights office opened in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller KAZAKSTAN FLOATS BONDS ON WORLD MARKET. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Pavlov announced on 10 December that $200 million worth of "Kazak Euronotes" were launched in Amsterdam on 9 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Kazakstan is the second CIS country, after Russia, to float its bonds on world markets. According to Pavlov, Kazak Euronotes have a three-year term and will carry an interest rate of 9.3%. The proceeds will be used to pay wage and pension arrears. -- Bruce Pannier UZBEKISTAN TO BUY RUSSIAN GRAIN. Due to a poor 1996 harvest, Uzbekistan agreed to exchange 100,000 metric tons of grain from Russia in return for 18,200 tons of cotton, the BBC reported on 9 December. The agreement is backed by a $27 million guarantee from European bankers. Officials noted that Uzbekistan will have to make further grain imports, as the 2.7 million ton harvest fell short of the 4.5 million tons the country requires. -- Roger Kangas TAJIK PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER MEET. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri met in Khosdekh, Afghanistan, on 10 December, international press reported. Few details were available on the meeting, except that the two men agreed to meet officially in Moscow on 19 December. The press speculated that a new ceasefire agreement will be signed at that time as well as an agreement on the establishment of a coalition council with representation from both the government and opposition. Meanwhile, Red Cross representatives were allowed to see 110 government soldiers being held by opposition forces in Komsomolabad. -- Bruce Pannier TURKMENISTAN CELEBRATES NEUTRALITY. An article in the 11 December edition of Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that Turkmenistan will celebrate the first anniversary of its recognition as a "neutral country" on 12 December. On that day in 1995, the UN passed a resolution recognizing Turkmenistan's status as a neutral country. To mark the occasion the former Karl Marx Square is being renamed "Neutrality Square." The article notes that "during the last year more than 60 international conferences, symposiums, and summits" took place in Ashgabat, and that three rounds of negotiations between the Tajik government and opposition were also held there, going so far as to claim that "only thanks to Turkmenistan" were the Tajik negotiations kept "alive." -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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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