|We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us. - George Eliot|
No. 240, Part I, 13 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 ON CONSTITUTION DAY, FILATOV WARNS OF CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS. Russians marked 12 December, Constitution Day, in a subdued manner. The occasion has become Russia's "quietest holiday" and may have been observed this year for the last time, according to a 12 December commentary by NTV's Vadim Gluzker. He noted that the first anniversary of the 12 December 1993 constitutional referendum coincided with the escalation of fighting in Chechnya, which "was no cause for celebration." Sergei Filatov, chairman of the All-Russia Coordinating Council responsible for electing pro-Yeltsin governors, warned on 12 December that a political crisis could be triggered by efforts by the Federation Council to amend the constitution. He claimed that, following the current round of gubernatorial elections, the leftist opposition will have more than enough members to put such amendments on the upper house's agenda, RIA Novosti reported. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, however, said that the governors tend to become moderate in their views after the elections no matter what their campaign rhetoric, Radio Mayak reported. -- Laurie Belin and Robert Orttung PLANS TO ORGANIZE MUSLIM GROUP IN DUMA. A spokesman for the Union of Muslims of Russia has announced plans to organize a Muslim deputies' group in the State Duma, according to a 12 December Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The union's chairman, Nadir Khachilaev, won a Duma by-election in Dagestan on 8 December, and the spokesman said Khachilaev's victory showed that the North Caucasus regions are experiencing an "Islamic revival." However, Khachilaev is known in Dagestan as a former karate champion and prominent businessman, not as a religious leader. Most of the 26 Muslims currently serving in the Duma belong to the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction. Even if all of them joined the new group, it would lack the 35 deputies needed to form an officially registered faction. Unlike small informal deputies' groups, registered Duma factions are represented on the Duma Council and may chair parliamentary committees. -- Laura Belin ROKHLIN ON RODIONOV, MILITARY REFORM. In an interview with NTV on 11 December, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin hailed President Yeltsin's decision to convert retired Army Gen. Igor Rodionov into a civilian defense minister, saying the move would improve coordination between the country's political and military leadership. Rokhlin, who like Rodionov is a retired general, said officers would respect a knowledgeable and qualified civilian defense minister and refuted criticism that the change would undermine military discipline. He added that plans to bolster the authority of the General Staff would ameliorate but not resolve the problem of rivalry among the various power ministries, which was highlighted by squabbles between the Interior Troops and Defense Ministry forces during the Chechen conflict. Rivalries will persist as long as the power ministries are directly subordinated to the president, and can appeal to him over the head of the General Staff, he argued. -- Scott Parrish YANDARBIEV INJURED IN CAR CRASH. Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev suffered a broken arm and other minor injuries while leaving Grozny on 12 December in what he said was "a simple car accident" that he blamed on his bodyguards, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yandarbiev was immediately hospitalized and is expected to be released today. Also on 12 December, two Russian Interior Ministry soldiers were found murdered in the village of Gerzel-Aul near Gudermes, NTV reported. Radio Mayak reported on 12 December that the payment of pensions and other social benefits will be resumed in Chechnya on 15 December. -- Liz Fuller FATE OF TYUMEN ELECTIONS REMAINS UNCERTAIN. Seven candidates are running for office in the 22 December Tyumen Oblast gubernatorial election. The incumbent, Leonid Roketskii, is leading in the polls with 53%, far ahead of his nearest rival, former Tyumen Credit Bank President and current Tyumen-2000 movement leader Sergei Atroshenko, who has 11%, RIA Novosti reported on 12 December. The participation of the oblast's two autonomous okrugs is still in doubt. The Yamal-Nenets Duma has declared that the okrug's voters will not participate in the elections, while Khanty-Mansi is preparing to take part in the vote but will only consider the candidate who wins on its territory to be the governor, ITAR-TASS reported. However, polls show that a majority of Yamal-Nenets residents plan to participate in the elections, despite the objections of their Duma. -- Robert Orttung TATARSTAN EXPANDS REGIONAL, INTERNATIONAL TIES. The State Council of Tatarstan on 12 December signed a protocol on interparliamentary cooperation with the Legislative Assembly of Ulyanovsk Oblast, RIA Novosti reported. The chairman of Tatarstan's legislature, Vasilii Likhachev, said 10 similar agreements have already been signed with the legislatures of neighboring republics and regions as well as with the parliaments of some CIS states, Canada, Turkey, and Hungary. Tatarstan's legislature also plans to sign such treaties with Amur and Khabarovsk oblasts, Primorskii Krai, and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast to foster better economic ties. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski RUSSIA ON NEW UN SECRETARY-GENERAL. Although some Russian officials had earlier suggested that Moscow would veto any candidate for UN secretary general other than Boutros Boutros Ghali, Russia has now accepted his withdrawal. Russian UN representative Sergei Lavrov told Russian Public TV (ORT) on 12 December that Russia will support any of the four African candidates currently under consideration by the Security Council. Lavrov said Russia insists only that the new secretary general be "qualified" but complained that some countries have "other" criteria. France has so far refused to support the leading candidate, Kofi Annan of Ghana, currently UN undersecretary general for peacekeeping. Paris reportedly resents Washington's earlier veto of Ghali's candidacy and opposes Annan because he does not come from a Francophone African state. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA, CHINA RATIFY EXTRADITION TREATY. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Deguang exchanged instruments ratifying a bilateral extradition treaty in Beijing on 12 December, international media reported. According to AFP, citing the official Chinese news agency Xinhua, the agreement is the first extradition treaty between China and a foreign country. The agency quoted a Chinese official as saying that growing economic ties between the two states had increased the need for cross-border cooperation in fighting crime, especially economic offenses. Meanwhile, after meeting Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov, Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng said "strategic partnership between China and Russia" is "our correct and historical option." Peng, scheduled to visit Moscow later this month to prepare for an April Russian-Chinese summit, said he hoped annual bilateral trade would quadruple to $20 billion by the year 2000. -- Scott Parrish MINERS' STRIKE OVER, EXCEPT IN ROSTOV. Some 60,000 miners from Rostov Oblast remained on strike on 12 December, despite a decision by the leadership of the Russian Coal-Industry Workers' Union to suspend a national strike begun on 3 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The suspension of the strike was announced late on 11 December, but union officials in Rostov said that they had not been consulted and that mines run by the coal concerns Rostovugol and Gukovugol would continue to stand idle. According to Reuters, the Rostov miners are also threatening to block railroads from 15 December if their wages are not paid. Miners in Tula have also reportedly refused to return to work, while six miners from Leninsk-Kuznetsk announced their intention to go on hunger strike. A senior representative of the coal company Rosugol acknowledged that the miners were unlikely to receive all their back wages, as the funds due from the federal budget are insufficient to cover the total backlog. -- Penny Morvant LUZHKOV ORDERS EARLY START OF CHRISTMAS SEASON IN MOSCOW. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has officially brought forward the New Year and Christmas season in the capital in an attempt to boost trade turnover, loosen consumer purse strings, and cheer up fellow Muscovites, Reuters reported on 13 December. Under the decree, shops and businesses were ordered to move up the day when they display New Year and Christmas decorations from the traditional 15 December to 1 December. The Moscow government also dispatched teams of inspectors to ensure the decree is complied with. Some large department stores, including GUM, started the holiday season on 25 November. Many shops are also adopting new business practices, such as offering consumers holiday discounts. -- Natalia Gurushina WAGE SURVEY PUBLISHED. A VTsIOM survey has found that only 30% of wages in Russia were paid on time and in full in 1996, down from 45% in 1995, Segodnya reported on 11 December. Some 31% of wages were delayed and 39% of workers were not paid at all (compared to 38% and 17% in 1995). High- ranking officials and managers, white-collar workers, and inhabitants of Moscow, St. Petersburg and European North were more likely to get paid on time, while manual workers and those living in rural areas, the Far East and Siberia, had their salaries delayed. The proportion of people who say that price and wage arrear increases may cause social unrest in their regions and those who are willing to take part in protest demonstrations increased from 26% and 23%, respectively, in 1995 to 40% and 26%, respectively, in 1996. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN CHURCH HEAD MEETS WITH POPE. Pope John Paul II said he hopes the Armenian Apostolic Church and the Roman Catholic Church will eventually reunite, after meeting with Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin I in the Vatican on 11 December, Reuters reported. The independent Armenian church split from the Vatican in the 5th century. Garegin said he is praying for the pontiff's health for "the good of all humanity." -- Emil Danielyan SELEZNEV IN TBILISI. Georgian parliament chairman Zurab Zhvania made clear to visiting Russian State Duma chairman Gennadii Seleznev on 12 December that the future course of Russian-Georgian relations hinges on a solution to the Abkhaz conflict, NTV reported. Parliament deputies from the National Democrat faction staged a walkout prior to Seleznev's address to the Georgian parliament to protest Russia's role in the region. Seleznev proposed the opening of a Russian consulate-general in Batumi to safeguard the interests of more than 30,000 ethnic Russians in Adzharia, according to Radio Rossii. Meanwhile, the Russian government has closed a border crossing between Georgia and North Ossetiya on orders from the commander of the Russian Border Troops, Gen. Andrei Nikolaev. The move imposes a virtual economic blockade on Georgia, although goods and passengers headed for Armenia are being allowed to proceed, Iberia reported on 12 December. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIAN OWNERSHIP OF KAZAKSTAN INDUSTRIES. The Russian electricity monopoly EES Rossii has taken over full ownership of the Severnii coal basin in Ekibastuz, Kazakstan, Radio Rossii reported on 12 December. An agreement to that effect was signed by the Russian and Kazakstani governments -- presumably as partial payment for Kazakstan's electricity debts to Russia. Russian CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev commented the day before that "practically all of Kazakstan's industry is owned by third countries," mentioning India and the U.S. as examples, Radio Mayak reported. However, foreign companies which have leased Kazakstani enterprises often have a hard time. ITAR-TASS reported on 12 December that the Russian firm Postovalov and Co. was abandoning its control over the Katagaily ore factory despite having sunk $3.8 million into the project. -- Peter Rutland YURII BATURIN IN TAJIKISTAN. Russian Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin arrived in Tajikistan on 12 December to review the ceasefire agreement signed by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Tajik opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri in Afghanistan on 10-11 December, Russian media reported. High-ranking Russian officials always visit the Central Asian nation prior to peace negotiations. All sides involved in the Tajik conflict still agree Rakhmonov and Nuri will meet in Moscow on 19 December to sign agreements that UN special envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem said will be even "more rewarding" than previous settlements. -- Bruce Pannier TAJIK CEASEFIRE VIOLATED IN FIRST 24 HOURS. The latest Tajik ceasefire, which came into effect at midnight on 11 December, has already been violated in the Garm region, Russian and Western media reported. The Tajik government complained to the UN, claiming that opposition forces in Garm, 150 km east of Dushanbe, attacked a special forces unit. At least two soldiers are reported dead. Another attack by opposition forces was reported in the village of Labijar, 120 km east of Dushanbe, but no casualty figures were given. The reports failed to mention that in the hours leading up to the signing of the latest ceasefire, government forces moved a brigade near the city of Garm, which was captured by the opposition on 1 December. Meanwhile, the opposition is denying that it was behind two bombs that went off in Dushanbe on 12 December, one near the parliament building and the other near the Pakistani Embassy. -- 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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