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No. 242, Part I, 17 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 RED CROSS WORKERS SLAUGHTERED IN CHECHNYA. Six medical personnel working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in a Norwegian-funded hospital in Novye Atagi, south of Grozny, were shot dead on the night of 16-17 December. In response to the killing of the six international volunteers, the Red Cross announced it was suspending all operations in Chechnya. Meanwhile, Chechen field commander Salman Raduev said on 16 December he would release 10 of the Russian Interior Ministry troops abducted by his men two days earlier in return for an apology from the Russian military for preventing his men from entering Dagestan, Russian and Western agencies reported. He added that he would exchange the remaining Russian hostages for Chechen fighters currently held prisoner by the Russians and accused the Russian security services of planning to assassinate him. Later the same day, however, after receiving a "tough warning" from interim Chechen Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov, Raduev agreed to release all the hostages on 17 December, Reuters reported citing Interfax. -- Liz Fuller BUDGET VOTE REVEALS SPLIT AMONG COMMUNISTS. Although Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov supported the draft 1997 budget in the Duma on 15 December, 44 of 147 KPRF deputies voted against it, along with all 46 Yabloko deputies and some of Sergei Baburin's supporters in the left-wing Popular Power faction, Segodnya reported on 16 December. Zyuganov said his party had been forced to choose a "very bad" outcome in order to avoid a "total disaster," NTV reported on 16 December. Yet leading KPRF official Valentin Kuptsov told ITAR-TASS that the Communists who voted against the budget had done so "with the consent of the faction leadership." The latest edition of Itogi (no. 31) argues that the KPRF faces deep ideological divisions and that party leaders adopt a vague "general opposition" stance partly to avoid alienating current supporters and partly because provoking confrontation with the authorities would jeopardize their own chances of joining the ruling elite. -- Laura Belin MINISTERS GO TO THE REGIONS. Numerous ministers are now visiting cities outside Moscow to listen to citizens' complaints and promise a better future. A crowd of angry pensioners and street venders accosted First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin while he was in his hometown of Nizhnii Tagil on 16 December, ITAR-TASS reported. They pleaded with Ilyushin to ensure the payment of back wages and pensions, some of which have been delayed since September. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said in Smolensk that 1997 would be the year of "cheap money and cheap credits," while Deputy Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko told Samara college students that the government would spend seven times as much on science, education, and culture next year as it has in 1996. -- Robert Orttung FEDERATION COUNCIL TO REVIEW RUSSIA-CHINESE BORDER TREATY. Federation Council Deputy Chairman Vasilii Likhachev, who heads a special parliamentary commission reviewing the 1991 Russo-Chinese border agreement, told ITAR-TASS on 16 December that the treaty "inflicts damage on Russia's geostrategic interests" and should be amended. The commission has been visiting the Russian Far East to discuss the ongoing demarcation of the Russo-Chinese border with officials from Primorskii Krai and Khabarovsk and Amur oblasts. Although the Russian Foreign Ministry has insisted that the treaty does not harm Russia's national interests, the commission supports local officials' opposition to the scheduled transfer to China of some small areas along the border. Likhachev said the treaty could be amended to address these concerns without undermining its framework. The Federation Council is scheduled to discuss the issue in mid-January. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA OPPOSES NATO EXPANSION, BUT WANTS DIALOGUE. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 16 December that Moscow has agreed to open a dialogue with NATO not because it has softened its opposition to the alliances's plans to enlarge, but in order to "alleviate our concerns about some developments in Europe," ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov, who was speaking at a joint news conference with his visiting Slovak counterpart Pavol Hamzik, added that Moscow would sign a "corresponding document" with the alliance only if those talks directly addressed Russian concerns. Primakov did, however, note some recent "positive changes" in "NATO's position on Russian concerns," including the decision to open talks on revising the 1990 CFE treaty and the declaration that the alliance does not plan to deploy nuclear weapons in new East European member states. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana will visit Moscow next January. -- Scott Parrish RODIONOV ON MILITARY REFORM. Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said in an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta on 16 December that a "general plan" for military reform is on the verge of being adopted by the Defense Council. However, he stressed that reforms would require sufficient financing and described the draft 1997 budget's planned defense expenditures as "totally unrealistic." Even with the significant force reductions planned for 1997, it is a "dangerous illusion" to think the country can economize on defense spending, he said. While giving no details of the plan, he noted that it will have five major priorities: maintaining nuclear deterrence, matching manpower levels to current and prospective threats, purchasing modern weapons systems, improving the system of command, and upgrading working conditions for officers and soldiers. Rodionov refused to answer a question about the imbroglio surrounding the dismissal of Ground Forces commander Vladimir Semenov. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN SIGNS WEAPONS LAW. President Boris Yeltsin signed the federal law on weapons on 13 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. The law, passed by the Duma on 13 November, regulates the acquisition, licensing, and use of arms. It allows individuals to use weapons in self-defense and, unlike previous legislation on arms, to acquire gas sprays and electric shock devices without a license. As before, other weapons cannot be bought without a license and must be registered with the Interior Ministry, according to NTV. Licenses to purchase weapons are valid for six months, while those for the production, trade, collection, or exhibition of weapons are good for three years. -- Penny Morvant RUSSIA ADHERES TO DEATH PENALTY BAN SINCE AUGUST. No death sentences have been carried out in the Russian Federation since August, Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Pardons Anatolii Pristavkin told ITAR- TASS on 16 December. The Council of Europe called on Russia to place an immediate moratorium on executions when Russia was admitted to the organization in February of this year, but 53 death sentences were carried out in 1996. In 1995, 40 people were executed, and in 1994, 10. In the new Criminal Code, which goes into effect on 1 January 1997, the number of crimes punishable by death has been reduced to five. Pristavkin called for the adoption of a law banning capital punishment to prevent the authorities from resuming executions. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski TRADE UNION BOSSES BECAME ABLE CAPITALISTS. An article in Obshchaya gazeta of 11-18 December accuses the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) of lining their pockets at the expense of their 45 million members. Author Vakhtang Yakobidze estimates that membership dues provide only 5% of the FNPR's income: the rest comes from operating the extensive network of hotels, sanatoria, etc. that the FNPR inherited from its Soviet predecessor. Much of this real estate has been sold off at nominal prices to private companies controlled by FNPR officials. Yakobidze singles out the joint-stock company formed on the basis of the FNPR's former Central Council for Tourism and Excursions, which now owns the massive Izmailogo and Salyut hotels in Moscow and others in the Mineralnye Vody resort. The company's president is Viktor Pugiev, deputy chairman of the FNPR for financial affairs. -- Peter Rutland NATIONAL ELECTRONIC MEDIA SILENCED IN MURMANSK. Communications workers in Murmansk Oblast declared an indefinite strike on 16 December to protest non-payments from the federal budget, ITAR-TASS reported. The workers first switched off transmitters for national television networks and radio stations during a one-hour strike in November, then declared a warning strike on 10 December, silencing Russian Public TV (ORT), Russian TV (RTR), St. Petersburg Channel 5, and radio stations including Radio Mayak. ITAR-TASS estimated back wages owed to communications workers across Russia at 120 billion rubles ($22 million) and suggested that broadcasts in other regions could soon be disrupted by strikes. Meanwhile, FNPR Chairman Mikhail Shmakov predicted another coordinated nationwide strike during the first quarter of 1997, noting that isolated groups of teachers, machine-builders, and power industry workers are already on strike to protest wage arrears, RIA-Novosti reported. -- Laura Belin FOOD IMPORTS STILL HIGH. The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that Russia's food imports for 1996 will total some $13.5 billion, or about the same level as last year, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. Imported food products now account for 35-37% of domestic consumption. Meat imports, in particular, meet over 50% of domestic demand. There has, however, been some improvement in domestic grain production. This year's grain harvest was 68 million metric tons, a 6% increase over 1995. As a result, Russia is likely to export up to 7 million metric tons of grain, mainly to other CIS countries, while importing 5 million tons to the Russian Far East. -- Natalia Gurushina FEDERAL INVESTMENT PROGRAM IN 1996. In the first nine months of this year, only 12 of 411 construction projects envisaged by the 1996 federal investment program were completed, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 17 December. At a fifth of the sites, no work was carried out at all. Of the 1.32 trillion rubles ($240 million) allotted to the program, only 1.01 trillion were released. None of the 77 construction projects in agriculture were finished, and the actual volume of investment in construction in that sector was a mere 57.3 billion rubles, or 20% of the expected level. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ANOTHER POLITICAL CASUALTY IN UZBEKISTAN. The regional governor of the Bukhara region, Mavlon Rahmonov, asked to be relieved of his duties on 14 December, Uzbek Radio reported. Current Deputy Finance Minister Samoiddin Husinov, has been nominated by President Islam Karimov to replace Rahmonov, who is the fourth regional governor to lose his job this year. Poor harvest figures were cited as the reason for Rahmonov's departure. While still incomplete, figures on Uzbekistan's grain harvest reveal that, on average, less than 80% of the expected quota was attained. Poor weather and mismanagement at the regional level have been blamed for the shortfall. And, as in 1995, the result has been a reshuffling of key positions in the government. -- Roger Kangas STATE ENTERPRISES TO BE AUCTIONED IN TURKMENISTAN. Foreign and domestic investors will be offered an equal opportunity to buy 100 state enterprises specializing in sales before the end of the year, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 17 December. According to unnamed sources in Turkmenistan's ministries of economics and finance, more than 2,000 enterprises involved in public catering and the retail trade are to be privatized over the next two years. Meanwhile, the Turkish firm Artpaper has won a tender to build a cellulose plant in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. The plant is to begin production in 1998 and will produce 32,000 tons of various cellulose products. The project is worth $110 million and is being financed by the Turkish side. -- Lowell Bezanis DEMIREL IN KAZAKSTAN. Turkish President Suleyman Demirel completed a two-day visit to Almaty on 17 December, Western and Russian agencies reported. The visit coincided with celebrations of the country's fifth year of independence and was designed to highlight Turkish-Kazakstani relations, which Demirel described as "eternal." Demirel and his Kazakstani counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, discussed expanding bilateral trade and utilization of a $300 million line of credit from Turkey. According to the Turkish Daily News, Demirel also presented a list of complaints from Turkish investors operating in Kazakstan. Over 200 Turkish firms have invested an estimated $1.2 billion in the country. -- Lowell Bezanis CONCERN OVER PKK ACTIVITIES IN KAZAKSTAN. The Turkish daily Yeni Yuzyil on 17 December used Demirel's visit to focus attention on the activities of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in Almaty. The paper claimed that the group was causing distress to Turkish students and businessmen in Almaty because of its alleged involvement in protection rackets. One business was reportedly bombed and a businessmen kidnapped. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Penny Morvant ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. 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