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No. 1, Part I, 2 January 1997
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 SAYS ENDING WAGE AND PENSION ARREARS TOP PRIORITY . . . In a taped television address broadcast on New Year's Eve, President Boris Yeltsin said, "The most important thing for me in 1997 is to make life in Russia better and calmer, to put an end to delays in the payment of pensions and wages, to have order introduced in this country at last," ITAR-TASS reported on 31 December. Campaigning for re-election last spring, Yeltsin promised to end wage and pension delays, but a series of presidential decrees issued in August rescinded almost all of his campaign spending promises (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 August 1996). -- Laura Belin . . . WHILE CHERNOMYRDIN BOASTS OF PROGRESS ON ARREARS. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS on 1 January that the government allocated about 8 trillion rubles ($1.5 billion) for salaries in December, paying almost all wage arrears. The army was the only exception, he said, promising that 780 billion rubles ($142 million) still owed to soldiers will be paid in January. As for pensions, Chernomyrdin said 3 trillion rubles in financial aid were allocated to the Pension Fund in December; pension arrears total about 14 trillion rubles. He expressed hope that pensions would begin to be paid on time in February, after which the government would start to pay back pensions owed, settling all debts in the area within the first half of 1997. -- Laura Belin ZYUGANOV FORECASTS EXPLOSIVE YEAR. "It feels now like August 1917. No one saw the revolution coming, but it came in three months. By March 1997, things could blow up," Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told Reuters on 1 January. Zyuganov also noted that while Russia has been calm of late, an 11-year cycle of sun spot activity would soon bring the country to a "very disturbed period. By 1999, it will be very tough." In writings and speeches, Zyuganov frequently draws historical analogies; he has compared present-day Russia to the "time of troubles" at the beginning of the 17th century and the unstable months before the October Revolution of 1917. However, he has firmly rejected the revolutionary aspirations of marginal left-wing radicals, calling instead for compromise and dialogue between the government and opposition. -- Laura Belin NON-PAYMENTS LEAD TO GAS SHORTAGE IN MURMANSK. About 1,500 homes in the far northern city of Murmansk were left without heat in sub-zero temperatures after a utility owed money by the city authorities refused to provide extra natural gas, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 December. City authorities said a train with liquefied gas was sent to Murmansk, and that some of the emergency supplies would be sent to other towns in Murmansk Oblast that are afflicted with gas shortages. -- Laura Belin PROTEST OVER MARII-EL ELECTION. An assembly of organizations representing various ethnic groups in the Volga and Urals issued a statement protesting the 22 December presidential election in the Marii-El Republic, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 December. The statement noted that candidates who do not speak the Mari language were allowed to contest the election, in violation of Marii-El's constitution. Many of Russia's 21 ethnic republics have constitutional provisions stating that candidates for office must be proficient in the republic's titular language. However, federal authorities have repeatedly said that language restrictions violate the Russian Constitution. According to the 1989 census, the Mari people make up 43% of the republic's population, while ethnic Russians comprise 47%. The runoff election in Marii-El will be held later this month between candidates representing the Communist Party and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia. -- Laura Belin CHECHNYA PREPARES FOR ELECTIONS. Aslan Maskhadov resigned as Chechen prime minister on 1 January in order to run in the 27 January presidential election, NTV reported. Chechen election law requires all government officials running for office to step down by 2 January. As of that date, 19 candidates had submitted the required 10,000 nomination signatures to enter the presidential race, and some 10 candidates had been nominated for each of the 63 parliamentary seats. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told ITAR-TASS on 31 December that Russia would not interfere in the elections, although he said he hopes that all 350,000 refugees from Chechnya will be allowed to take part. So far, voting facilities are only being arranged for refugees living in neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetiya. -- Peter Rutland DUMA PASSES LAW ON CHEMICAL WEAPONS DESTRUCTION. The Duma on 27 December passed a bill regulating the destruction of Russia's estimated 40,000 metric ton stockpile of chemical weapons, ITAR-TASS reported. The law charges the president and government with laying out a schedule for the destruction of the stockpile, and codifies safety standards. It also attempts to soften local opposition to the destruction of chemical weapons at the depots where they are currently stored (see OMRI Russian Regional Report, 4 December 1996) by granting federal subsidies to neighboring regions. Russia, like the U.S., has signed but not ratified the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which will enter into force this April. The lack of appropriate legislation has hindered efforts to begin liquidating the Russian stockpile. The bill now goes to the Federation Council for consideration. -- Scott Parrish FEDOROV RIDICULES ALCOHOL MONOPOLY. Former Finance Minister Boris Fedorov punctured the publicity around the recent decision to reintroduce a state monopoly on alcohol in an interview with Rossiiskie vesti on 31 December. He noted the existence of presidential decree no. 918, issued in 1993, entitled "On Restoration of the State Monopoly on the Manufacture, Storage, and Sale of Spirits." This mandated the licensing of all alcohol production and sales, but the decree was not implemented. Adding to the confusion, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov said on 30 December that the government's earlier plan to introduce quotas on alcohol imports will now be dropped, although all imports will be licensed, ITAR-TASS reported. The IMF had been a strong critic of the plan to introduce import quotas. -- Peter Rutland RUSSIA PROTESTS OVER ARREST OF DIPLOMAT IN NEW YORK. The Russian Foreign Ministry on 31 December called in the U.S. charge d'affaires to protest a 29 December incident in which it claims a Russian diplomat was beaten by New York police, international agencies reported. Moscow wants an apology from Washington over the incident, involving Yurii Obnosov, first secretary at the Russian mission to the UN, and his Belarusian colleague, Yurii Oranzh. New York Police spokeswoman Eve Serrano, however, said Obnosov and Orange, who appeared intoxicated, assaulted police who tried to cite them for illegal parking. As they failed to identify themselves, she added, they were taken into custody following a "slight struggle" but quickly released after their identities were verified. The State Department is withholding comment pending a full investigation, but New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani rejected the Russian charges, and urged Moscow and Minsk to recall the two diplomats. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN TO EMPHASIZE BLOCKING NATO EXPANSION IN 1997. Presidential foreign policy aide Dmitrii Ryurikov said on 1 January that "overcoming the concept of NATO expansion eastwards" will be a "major goal" of Yeltsin's foreign policy during 1997, RFE/RL reported, citing Interfax. Ryurikov said the NATO issue would be at the center of Yeltsin's scheduled 4 January meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Ryurikov added that Moscow views NATO expansion as "as a kind of offense," arguing that "it was Russia that won the Cold War by doing away with military confrontation for the good of all countries." Writing in Segodnya on 31 December, military commentator Pavel Felgengauer said Russian officials anticipate no "practical benefits" from NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana's scheduled mid-January visit to Moscow; they expect him to offer only "general theses" rather than address specific Russian concerns about enlargement. -- Scott Parrish DRAFT DODGER'S SENTENCE REVERSED. The Collegium of the Moscow City Court reversed a sentence imposed against Muscovite Aleksandr Seregin by a lower court for draft dodging, Komsomolskaya pravda reported on 26 December. Seregin, a member of the Anti-military Radical Association, insisted on his right to perform alternative service, as guaranteed by the constitution adopted in December 1993. He was convicted on the grounds that there is currently no law defining alternative service (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 October 1996). The decision of the Collegium sets a an example for courts that have usually postponed their decisions on conscious objectors. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski PROFITEERING IN ALUMINUM INDUSTRY. In a special investigative report on 29 December, NTV's "Itogi" examined the privatization of Russia's lucrative aluminum industry since 1992. British entrepreneur David Rubin was able to acquire a controlling packet of shares in the Bryansk and Sayansk aluminum works and a third of the Krasnoyarsk plant shares, at a time when the domestic price of aluminum was less than half the export price. Rubin's firm, Transis Commodities, was headed by Lev and Mikhail Chernyi, and by Viktor Lisin, a close associate of Oleg Soskovets, the former head of the Russian Metallurgy Committee who was appointed first deputy prime minister in May 1993, and who was dismissed in June 1996. The program alleged that Transis milked profits from the Russian plants and avoided taxes by manipulating the prices of bauxite imports, and received approval for these practices from a Russian government meeting in August 1994 chaired by Soskovets. The Krasnoyarsk factory has broken away from the Transis group and seemed to have been a source of information for NTV. In the first eight months of this year, aluminum exports hit $2.7 billion, yet most of the producers and domestic bauxite suppliers are insolvent. -- Peter Rutland NEW RUBLE EXCHANGE CORRIDOR. The Central Bank intends to keep the ruble's value within a corridor set at 5,500-6,100 rubles/$1 as of 1 January, declining to 5,750-6,350 rubles/$1 by 31 December 1997. This will amount to a ruble depreciation of 9% over the year--less than the expected 12% domestic price inflation. In 1996 while inflation was 22% the ruble rose by 19.8%, from 4,640 rubles on 3 January to 5,560 rubles on 31 December 31. This mere 2% real appreciation in the ruble in 1996 contrasts with a 43% real appreciation in 1995, when the 130% annual inflation outstripped the nominal fall in the ruble/dollar exchange rate. The Central Bank introduced the managed currency corridor in July 1995 and switched to an inclined corridor, allowing gradual devaluation, in July 1996. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR NATIONAL RECONCILIATION. In his New Year's address to the nation, Eduard Shevardnadze said he hopes 1997 will be a year of reconciliation among Georgians, Abkhaz, and South Ossetians, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 December. Shevardnadze condemned the calls by some Georgian politicians to resolve the Abkhaz conflict by force as "thoughtless" while adding that Georgia will never agree to Abkhazia's outright independence. Shevardnadze called for a "more active" Russian mediation in the Abkhaz conflict and said despite "certain difficulties and problems" in relations with Russia, his government will continue the strategic partnership policy with the latter. -- Emil Danielyan GEORGIA HIT BY NATURAL DISASTERS. Rescue workers on 30 December managed to clear a path into a 4 km-long tunnel connecting Georgia and Russia that had been blocked off by an avalanche in the Caucasus Mountains on 26 December, international agencies reported. Some 300 people, including one newborn baby who died of hypothermia, were trapped in the tunnel. Some 60 truck drivers, fearing that their vehicles and cargoes could be stolen, decided not to leave the tunnel until traffic is resumed. The avalanche followed floods in West Georgia that, according to ITAR-TASS, washed away more than 50 bridges and destroyed several hundred houses and buildings, causing an estimated $10 million in damages. -- Emil Danielyan ARMENIAN PRESIDENT ON 1997. Speaking on national TV, Levon Ter-Petrossyan said that in 1997 Armenia will have to end the trade-route blockade and deal with international pressure due to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 January. The president said the two challenges can be successfully overcome if people maintain solidarity and the country remains stable. He also said that the new year will be marked by an economic revival, an improvement in living standards, and a stronger rule of law. -- Emil Danielyan KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SEES ECONOMIC GROWTH. Askar Akayev on 28 December told government officials that while living standards had not improved during 1996, "new dynamic sectors of the national economy" would correct that trend in 1997. Akayev was alluding to the Kumtor gold mining operation which is scheduled to begin production in 1997. Akayev said the government will take measures to keep the national currency, the som, stable at the present rate of 15-17 some/$1, cut annual inflation to 15%, and raise the minimum wage and pensions by 30%. -- Bruce Pannier TAJIK-IRANIAN RELATIONS. Iranian Vice President Hassan Habibi arrived in Tajikistan on 30 December at the head of an 80-member delegation, the largest Iranian group to visit the Central Asian state so far, international press reported. Habibi on 31 December signed agreements with Tajik Prime Minister Yakhye Azimov on double taxation, cooperation in education, culture, trade, and industry, and a memorandum on developing auto and rail transportation. ITAR-TASS reported on 30 December that Tajikistan is seeking help in exploiting its gas reserves, estimated at 800 billion cubic meters, and its 130 million tons worth of oil reserves. In Tehran, United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri met with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati on 30 December to discuss the recently signed Tajik peace agreement. -- 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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