|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
No. 4, Part I, 7 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 CATCHES "COLD," CANCELS MEETINGS . . . Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 6 January that, owing to a "serious cold" and a slightly high temperature, President Boris Yeltsin had postponed the scheduled 8 January session of the Defense Council and several other meetings, including a scheduled visit by Bulgarian President-elect Petar Stoyanov, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii denied that Yeltsin's illness was connected with his 5 November heart surgery, and said the president had probably caught the influenza virus which is currently sweeping Moscow. Yastrzhembskii refuted reports that a special "medical council" of top doctors had convened to discuss the president's condition. Last July, before the second round of the presidential election, administration officials blamed a cold for Yeltsin's failure to appear in public, although later it was revealed that the president had suffered a heart attack. -- Scott Parrish . . . ORDERS PREPARATION OF COUNTERMEASURES TO NATO ENLARGEMENT. Earlier On 6 January, Yeltsin chaired a special meeting to discuss Russia-NATO relations which was attended by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, and other top officials, Russian and international agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii said the meeting had "unanimously confirmed" Moscow's "explicitly negative position" on NATO enlargement. He added that Yeltsin had directed Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to devise a flexible "action plan" of various measures which Russia might take if the alliance accepts new Eastern European members. Meanwhile, Western diplomatic sources told Reuters that in his 4 January meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Yeltsin took a hard line, insisting that before NATO invites new members to join, it offer Russia a legally binding consultation agreement granting Moscow a voice in alliance decisions like enlargement. NATO officials have consistently rebuffed such suggestions in the past. -- Scott Parrish SPLIT IN MILITARY LEADERSHIP OVER REFORM PLANS? The Russian military leadership is divided over how to approach the issue of military reform, according to a 6 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The agency said that the next session of the Defense Council had been postponed largely because of disagreement among military leaders over whether to move ahead with reform at current funding levels, or delay it until additional funds are budgeted. Many military leaders, including Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, have insisted that additional funding beyond the 104 trillion rubles ($18.9 billion) contained in the 1997 draft budget is needed to begin reform, while the agency said others believe that waiting for additional funds is "unrealistic," and argue that the collapse of the military will accelerate unless the limited budget funds available are used to immediately begin downsizing the military. -- Scott Parrish JUSTICE MINISTRY CALLS FOR ACTION ON REPUBLICAN LAWS. The Justice Ministry considers unconstitutional regional legislation a threat to Russia's territorial integrity, and believes that "the time for persuasion has gone. It is time to act," sources at the ministry told ITAR-TASS on 5 January. In recent months, prominent figures including presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev have complained of so-called "legal separatism," noting that provisions in the constitutions of 19 of Russia's 21 republics violate the federal Constitution. Yeltsin has instructed Chubais, Kovalev, and Procurator- General Yurii Skuratov to draft proposals on holding officials responsible if they delay or hinder efforts to repeal unconstitutional local laws. The Constitutional Court recently instructed the Republic of Marii-El to rescind an article of the republic's constitution that imposed language restrictions on candidates for public office. -- Laura Belin HEAD OF VCIOM DISCUSSES YEAR-END POLLS. For the first time in the nine years that the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VCIOM) has conducted year-end polls, respondents named a social problem rather than a particular political event as the most important issue of 1996, VCIOM director Yurii Levada wrote in the 29 December-5 January edition of Moskovskie novosti. In 1996, 42% of respondents named chronic delays in paying salaries and pensions as the year's most important event, followed by the peace agreement and withdrawal of troops from Chechnya (39%), and the presidential election (26%). In 1995, respondents cited the January assault on Grozny, the March assassination of television journalist Vladislav Listev, and the December parliamentary election. Levada noted that only about 20% of respondents expect 1997 to be worse than 1996, while 75% believe it will be either better or no worse. -- Laura Belin RUSSIA REJECTS CRITICISM OF CYPRUS MISSILE DEAL. Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Tarasov rejected as "groundless" criticism by the United States, Britain, and Turkey of the contract under which Moscow will supply S-300 air defense missiles to Greek-controlled Cyprus (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 January 1997), Russian and Western agencies reported on 6 January. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has filed a protest note with Moscow, saying the missile deal "creates a threat to peace on Cyprus," while the U.S. State Department termed the weapons sale "a step in the wrong direction." Tarasov insisted that the purchase of the "defensive armaments" by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government does not threaten anyone, adding that Russia "does not see any reason to curtail its military-technical cooperation with Cyprus." -- Scott Parrish CHECHEN SECTION OF PIPELINE MAY NOT BE READY. The president of Chechnya's Southern Oil Company, Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, complained to ITAR-TASS on 7 January that the Russian Ministry of Fuel and Energy had not signed an agreement on use of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline crossing Chechnya by the 1 December deadline which had been agreed by Chernomyrdin and Aslan Maskhadov when they met in Moscow on 23 November. Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev recently ordered his own personal battalion to take steps to shut down all the republic's illegal oil producers, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 6 January. Apart from operating their own wells, they also siphoned off oil from the pipeline, when it was functioning. -- Peter Rutland PATRIARCH SLAMS WAGE ARREARS. In his broadcast on the Orthodox Christmas Eve, Patriarch Aleksii II said that "The Church states that the non- payment of money for what has been earned by honest toil is a crime against the individual and a sin against God," AFP reported on 6 January. He conducted a Christmas Eve mass attended by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and other officials, in which he called for a moral and spiritual revival of the nation. Rossiiskie vesti of 6 January noted that there are now some 300 churches and eight monasteries working in Moscow. -- Peter Rutland ACADEMIC ENDS HUNGER STRIKE. Vladimir Strakhov, the director of the Institute of Earth Physics, ended a hunger strike which he began on 23 December to protest non-payment of the funds allocated to his institute. He staged a similar protest in October. The 64-year old Strakhov was reported to be suffering from heart problems. Strakhov complained that in a meeting with Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits on 25 December, the latter promised to pay off the government's 88 billion ruble ($16 million) debt to the Russian Academy of Sciences by 5 January, but this was not done. Meanwhile, power workers in Chita, who have not been paid since July 1996, began an open-ended strike on 5 January, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Peter Rutland INFLATION HITS NEW LOW. The annual inflation rate for 1996 was 21.8%, down from 131% in 1995 and the lowest since 1990, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. In December, prices rose just 1.4%, and the 1997 budget sets an inflation target of 11.8% for the year. Some analysts question the relevance of the inflation figures, noting the growing use of barter and money surrogates. However, another positive sign is that nominal annual interest rates on new six-month government bonds have fallen to around 35%, down from a peak of 150% a year ago. (Foreign purchasers of the bonds are limited to a dollar interest rate of 13%). ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January that the federal budget deficit for the first 10 months of 1996 was 63.3 trillion rubles, which was 24% of total budget spending and 3.5% of GDP. It was financed by the sale of government securities (61%--38 trillion rubles) and external borrowing (39%). -- Peter Rutland NTV ON TARPISHCHEV. NTV's "Itogi" showed the second installment of its expose on the aluminum industry on 5 January. The first program argued that Oleg Soskovets was the patron of a clique of aluminum industrialists (see OMRI Daily Digest 2 January 1997). The second tried to tie these individuals to Shamil Tarpishchev, former Sports Minister and Yeltsin tennis trainer, and to other figures allegedly linked to Moscow crime groups, such as Oleg "Taiwanchik" Takhtakhunov and Anton Malevskii. The evidence cited was less than conclusive. It consisted of photos of these men meeting at tennis tournaments in Sochi and the Kremlin, and a photo from the magazine Tennis plyus of 2 December showing them meeting the aluminum industrialist Mikhail Cherny in Israel. The program also quoted the Kremlin visitor list for Tarpishev from June 1995, which showed that he met with Oleg Kantor, the head of Yugorskii bank, one month before the latter was assassinated. The program is presumably part of an effort to discredit Tarpishev associate Aleksandr Korzhakov. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA U.S. TO SEEK PROSECUTION OF GEORGIAN DIPLOMAT . . . The United States will ask the Georgian government to waive immunity for a diplomat to allow his prosecution in the U.S. for a car accident in Washington that caused the death of a 16-year-old American girl, Western agencies reported on 6 January. Georgi Makharadze, 35, reportedly triggered a five-car crash while drunk. The U.S. State Department said it is awaiting police reports and a decision from the attorney general, expected on 7 January, on whether to begin criminal proceedings against Makharadze. An unidentified White House official told AFP that if the Georgian government declines the request "we will ask the government to remove the diplomat from the country." Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has sent a letter of condolence to the family of the dead girl and said Makharadze "should take responsibility." -- Emil Danielyan . . . AMID CALLS TO SUSPEND U.S. AID TO GEORGIA. A Republican senator urged President Bill Clinton to suspend aid to Georgia unless the latter strips Makharadze of diplomatic immunity, Reuters reported on 6 January. In a letter to Clinton, Senator Judd Gregg said that would be the only "strong" and "appropriate" action for the U.S. government. A spokesman for the Georgian embassy in Washington did not comment on Gregg's letter but said any decision on a waiver of immunity will be a "decision between the two governments." Georgia is slated to get $30 million in financial aid from the United States for the 1997 fiscal year. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States expressed "very, very serious" concern to the Georgian ambassador, but defended diplomatic immunity "as a concept." -- Emil Danielyan RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN TALKS. A Russian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov is in Baku for talks on a wide range of bilateral, as well as CIS-related, issues, Russian media reported on 6 January. Talks are expected to focus on bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the repayment of Azerbaijan's debts to Russia, and the time-frame and volume for Azeri oil to be transited via Russian territory. Both Azerbaijan and Russia have announced that their respective segments of the 1411 km-long Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline are ready to carry Azeri oil to international markets, Russian agencies reported. Azerbaijan wants to start pumping some 30,000 metric tons of oil in February. -- Lowell Bezanis TAJIK TALKS OPEN IN IRAN. With a ceasefire agreed in Moscow in December by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri still holding, delegations from both sides met in the Iranian capital Tehran on 6 January, international media reported. The talks, delayed by one day, are to discuss the formation of a National Reconciliation Commission which is to help pave the way for new parliamentary elections within 12-18 months. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati welcomed members of the delegations and called on them to "be forgiving and show understanding." AFP reports that the formation of the commission dominated the first day of the talks, with the government delegation rejecting a proposal for 40% of the commission to be made up of UTO representatives. Talks are scheduled to continue all this week. -- Bruce Pannier TRIAL OF TURGUNALIYEV CONTINUES IN KYRGYZSTAN. The case against Topchubek Turgunaliyev, chairman of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, continued in Bishkek municipal court on 6 January, RFE/RL reported. Turgunaliyev is facing embezzlement charges for the misappropriation of $10,000 from the Bishkek Humanitarian University when he was its rector in 1994. State prosecutor Marat Kenjakunov asked the court to seize all Turgunaliyev's property and sentence him to a 12-year term in prison. Timur Stamkulov, the former commercial director of the university, is a codefendant and Kenjakunov asked for him to be sentenced to seven years in jail. Turgunaliyev's lawyers argue that Turgunaliyev is a political victim, noting that the trial is taking place in a criminal not a civil court and pointing out that Turgunaliyev was taken into custody at a December demonstration where a new movement "For Deliverance from Poverty" was founded. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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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