|The only certainty is that nothing is certain. - Pliny the Elder|
No. 10, Part I, 15 January 1997
OMRI DAILY DIGEST 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 DUMA RESOLUTION TO REMOVE YELTSIN DRAFTED. A draft resolution calling for the removal of President Boris Yeltsin due to his poor health was drawn up by the State Duma Security Committee and submitted to the Duma's legal department for study, Russian and Western media reported on 14 January. Article 92 of the constitution stipulates that three circumstances may cause the president to leave office before his term expires: his resignation; his "persistent inability to fulfill his duties due to his state of health"; or his impeachment. However, the constitution specifies no process for determining the president's fitness or removing him on health grounds. Yeltsin's representative in parliament, Aleksandr Kotenkov, denounced the proposed Duma resolution. He claimed that Article 92 implies that the president himself would have to decide that he was unable to serve for health reasons. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN HEALTH UPDATE. The presidential press service said Yeltsin's condition improved significantly on 14 January, allowing him to do two hours of paperwork and meet with his chief of staff, Anatolii Chubais, for about half an hour, Russian and Western media reported. Spokesmen said Yeltsin's temperature remains normal and he has only "sporadic wheeziness" in his lungs, but there was still no word on when the president might leave the Central Clinical Hospital. -- Laura Belin CHECHEN DEVELOPMENTS. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin announced on 14 January that preliminary agreement had been reached to allow refugees from Chechnya to vote in the presidential elections in Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, and Stavropol, ORT reported. Council spokesman Igor Ignatiev told AFP on 15 January that Chechen leaders have agreed to make arrangements to allow some refugees living in neighboring Dagestan and Ingushetiya to vote near their place of residence. Earlier, Chechen election officials had said that refugees, variously estimated at 230-350,000, would have to cross back into Chechnya to vote (see OMRI Daily Digest , 9 January 1997). There was no confirmation of the new policy from the Chechen side. The refugees are thought likely to vote for Aslan Maskhadov, who negotiated the end of the war. -- Peter Rutland LEBED IN GERMANY. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed began a five-day private visit to Germany on 14 January at the invitation of the German-Russian Forum and the German Society for Foreign Policy, Russian and Western media reported. Commenting on NATO enlargement, Lebed said he expects the alliance to admit four new members: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia, despite Moscow's objections. He argued that this "first wave" of expansion would be the last, as afterwards "internal tensions" would wrack the alliance. Lebed emphasized that he still opposed NATO enlargement, but said Russia needed to intensify contacts with the alliance to "build mutual trust," and hammer out arrangements for a new European security system. NTV reported that Lebed plans to travel to Washington to attend U.S. President Bill Clinton's 20 January inauguration. -- Scott Parrish ZYUGANOV PANS TIMING OF YELTSIN'S BELARUS INITIATIVE. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 14 January attacked Yeltsin's latest proposal to accelerate integration with Belarus as "political intrigue," the BBC reported. Zyuganov said he did not oppose union with Belarus in principle, but argued "destroyers cannot unite," referring to the communist view that holds Yeltsin responsible for the collapse of the USSR. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed termed Yeltsin's initiative a "political trick," designed to "divert Russian society's attention away from vital internal state problems." Meanwhile, presidential foreign policy aide Dmitrii Ryurikov denied media reports that Yeltsin's move was designed to counter NATO enlargement. He told ITAR-TASS that Russo-Belarusian unification would not threaten NATO, and pointedly noted that Moscow would respond to Western questions on the issue "just as NATO answers our claims: this is not directed against you." -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA DENOUNCES ALLEGED LETTER ON UKRAINIAN POLICY. Russian officials on 14 January angrily denounced as a "forgery" a document which the Kyiv paper Vseukrainskie vedomosti published the previous day, Russian and Western media reported (see related story in Ukrainian section). The paper claimed the document is an October 1996 letter from Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Krylov to presidential foreign policy aide Dmitrii Ryurikov, in which Kylov allegedly termed Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's foreign policy "anti-Russian and destructive," and called for steps to engineer his ouster. Krylov said such a letter "did not and could not exist," adding that "Ukraine is a state friendly to Russia." The Russian Foreign Ministry termed the publication "a provocative falsification," blasted it as "Goebbels-like propaganda," and requested that Ukrainian authorities investigate the incident. (See related item in Central and Eastern Europe section) -- Scott Parrish 1996 LIVING STANDARDS REVIEWED. The real income of Russian citizens remained stable in 1996 in contrast to the downturn in 1995, Vyacheslav Bobkov, the director of the All-Russian Center for Living Standards, told ITAR-TASS on 14 January. The share of total income accounted for by wages grew slightly, reversing the trend in evidence in previous years. Bobkov also noted a 15% decline in the share of the population living below the poverty line but added that the income of 11% of the population was too low even to purchase the food component of the subsistence minimum. Income differentials stabilized: the income of the richest 10% of the population is now 13 times higher than that of the poorest 10%, down from a ratio of 13.5 in 1995. All income data must be treated with caution because of underreporting to avoid taxes and delays in the payment of wages and benefits. -- Penny Morvant FNPR PLANS NEW PROTEST. Mikhail Shmakov, head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR), has instructed the organization's regional branches to begin preparations for a possible one-day strike on 27 March to protest wage arrears, Russian Television (RTR) reported on 14 January. The FNPR, an umbrella body including 46 sectoral unions and 79 regional associations, regularly organizes national protests--the most recent on 5 November. Participation varies greatly from region to region, with many work collectives declaring solidarity with union demands but failing to take part in strikes and pickets. According to ITAR-TASS, the FNPR's new statutes, adopted at its third congress on 6 December, require member organizations to take part in collective actions. It remains to be seen whether this change will succeed in making the FNPR more cohesive and its protests more effective. -- Penny Morvant NO MONEY TO PAY TAX COLLECTORS. The State Tax Service (GNS) is still owed 1.9 trillion rubles ($340 million) from the 1996 federal budget, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 January, citing GNS Deputy Chairman Vladimir Yevstigneev. Yevstigneev added that a decree issued by President Yeltsin last May raising wages for GNS employees by 30% has not been implemented. Many other such promises made by Yeltsin in the run-up to the presidential elections have also been ignored. The mounting debt to tax officials--upon whose efforts the current drive to improve tax collection relies--is provoking labor disputes. One tax department in Yaroslavl Oblast, for example, has resolved to go on strike until its demands are met. -- Penny Morvant VOLSKII LOBBIES FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH. Arkadii Volskii, chairman of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, called on the government to allot 4% of the federal budget to scientific research - as they are obliged to under a July 1996 law. Writing in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 15 January, Volskii noted that the 1997 budget allots just 2.67% to research. He argued that since 1991 research institutes have lost 40-70% of their personnel, and have seen their funding fall 15-fold. He noted that Russia is still living off the heritage of Soviet science: current fighter export orders, for example, are for a model which was designed in 1987. Volskii also called for tax breaks for institutes and universities, and for them to be granted a share of export earnings from high-tech exports. -- Peter Rutland RUSSIA'S FOREIGN TRADE IN 1996. According to preliminary estimates, Russia's foreign trade in 1996 reached $133.1 billion, 5% up on 1995, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 January, citing Foreign Economics Relations Minister Oleg Davydov. Exports (45% of which were energy resources) went up by 8% to $86.5 billion. Machinery exports increased by 10%. Imports declined by 0.1% to $46.6 billion. Trade with CIS countries increased by 10%, and with the rest of the world by 4%. CIS countries accounted for 18% of Russia's exports and 32% of imports. Davydov said that the average import tariff in Russia was 14-15%. It will be cut by one-fifth by the year 2000 and by another one-third by 2005. -- Natalia Gurushina in Moscow TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN, GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN YEREVAN. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagarashvili on 14 January met with his Armenian counterpart Aleksandr Arzumanyan, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported. The two agreed that prospective gas pipelines from Russia to Turkey running via Georgia and Armenia and from Iran to Armenia and Georgia are in their countries' interests. "We are ready to do everything for the realization of these two projects," Menagarashvili said. The ministers said they reached "complete mutual understanding" on all the issues discussed during the talks. Menagarashvili praised Armenia for its "absolute support" for Georgia's efforts to settle the Abkhaz conflict, and added that the dispute concerns all three Transcaucasian states as it hampers their communication with the outside world. Menagarashvili was also received by Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. -- Emil Danielyan ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER IN U.S. During his two-week visit to the U.S., Armen Sarkisyan met with U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, RFE/RL reported on 13 January. According to State Department spokeswoman Ann Johnson, Talbott urged Armenian authorities to hold early parliamentary elections and discussed with Sarkisyan the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Sarkisyan assured U.S. officials and the Armenian-American community that he and President Levon Ter-Petrossyan are committed to "strengthening democracy" and economic reforms. Sarkisyan also met with World Bank President James Wolfensohn. -- Emil Danielyan ALIEV ON "OIL WEAPON." Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev, speaking about resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said "the great powers which make use of our oil...can use their influence to persuade Armenia to negotiate," AFP reported on 15 January. Aliev was speaking at the conclusion of his state visit to France. The day before, Russian media reported that French President Jacques Chirac, following talks with Aliev, emphasized the need to respect Azerbaijan's territorial integrity. This statement was interpreted to mean Aliev had made progress in securing traditionally pro-Armenian France's support in the dispute over the break-away ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. -- Lowell Bezanis BOYCOTT OF KAZAKSTANI MEDIA TENDER FAILS. Though some of Kazakstan's independent stations tried to organize a boycott of the tender of broadcast frequencies, 20 of 27 private and commercial radio and television stations plan to take part, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 January. Independent stations had hoped to delay the tender but when it became clear the Transport and Communications Ministry intended to hold to the 13 January deadline for proposals many independent stations chose to take part. Licenses are due to be issued on 24 January. -- Bruce Pannier KILLERS OF AMERICAN JOURNALIST IN KAZAKSTAN CAUGHT? Law enforcement officials in Kazakstan say they have apprehended three suspects in the murder of American journalist Chris Gehring, RFE/RL reported on 15 January. Authorities say one of the suspects, a known drug addict, admits to stealing the keys to Gehring's apartment and giving them to the other suspects. A computer, believed to be Gehring's, was found in the basement of a building where one of the suspects lives. Kazakstani authorities still maintain that Gehring surprised the thieves as they were robbing his flat and then the robbers tied his hands and feet, tortured him, and cut his throat. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan EXCHANGE OF TAJIK POWs BEGINS. In another hopeful sign that the latest ceasefire agreement will work, the Tajik opposition on 14 January released 35 government soldiers captured in fighting in central Tajikistan in late November and early December, according to RTR and Reuters. The government had freed six opposition prisoners on 11 January. Another 20 government soldiers held in Garm will be released soon, the opposition says. The Tajik government noted that, while this step is encouraging, there are possibly hundreds of government POWs being held and not all the groups holding them are allied to the United Tajik Opposition. Some may have been captive for more than one year. -- Bruce Pannier PROSTITUTION, CORRUPTION AND CRIME IN TURKMENISTAN. A glimpse of Turkmenistan's social problems was provided by a crackdown on prostitution in Ashgabat, RFE/RL reported on 14 January. President Saparmurat Niyazov said prostitution has become a widespread problem and noted that girls as young as 12 or 13 were engaged in the vice trade. He also charged law enforcement officials with deep involvement in the business, citing a report of the Presidential Security Council, as well as involvement in the drug trade. Niyazov noted there was a 16% rise in major crimes nationwide, 19% in Ashgabat itself and 22% in Tashavus. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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