|There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in. - Graham Greene|
No. 11, Part I, 15 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 TO SPEND SEVERAL MORE DAYS IN HOSPITAL. President Boris Yeltsin's head doctor, Sergei Mironov, announced on 15 January that the president would remain in the Central Clinical Hospital at least until the end of the week, Russian and Western media reported. He said Yeltsin's condition was stable, and his temperature had remained normal for six days, but he noted that pneumonia is a "rather serious disease" that could still lead to complications. However, Mironov predicted that Yeltsin would be well enough by the end of the month to attend a summit of CIS leaders, NTV reported. Commenting on charges that the president is "persistently unable" to fulfill his duties, Mironov said such accusations are "simply not serious," because Yeltsin has been absent from the Kremlin only since 8 January for treatment of pneumonia. Heart disease kept Yeltsin away from the Kremlin for about four months in 1995 and six months in 1996. -- Laura Belin DUMA EXPERTS NIX RESOLUTION TO REMOVE YELTSIN . . . Legal experts working for the State Duma announced that the lower house of parliament does not have the constitutional authority to pass a resolution to remove the president on health grounds, Russian media reported on 15 January. They noted that there is no law outlining the process by which a president could be removed because of poor health. Following the announcement, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev suggested removing the resolution from the Duma's agenda, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais characterized the attempts to remove Yeltsin as a "political farce." -- Laura Belin . . . BUT OPPONENTS KEEP UP THE PRESSURE. Even though the resolution on removing Yeltsin would apparently carry no legal weight, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin continued to press for a parliamentary vote on the measure, which was drafted by his committee, Russian media reported on 15 January. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said his faction, which includes Ilyukhin, would meet on 16 January to decide whether to force the Duma to vote on the resolution. Zyuganov added that he was surprised that Yeltsin's advisers, friends and family "decided to finish him off by forcing him to work after such a serious operation." -- Laura Belin CHUBAIS BEHIND ON HIS TAXES. Investigative journalist Aleksandr Minkin has discovered that Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais did not pay income tax on the $278,000 he earned between 15 April and 15 July 1996 when he was working for the presidential election campaign. Minkin reported this in Novaya gazeta 's 13-19 January issue, noting that Chubais' monthly salary was 10 times that of the U.S. president. Chubais was appointed chief of staff on 15 July, and in August Yeltsin placed him in charge of a special emergency commission to improve tax collection. Minkin relates that he contacted Chubais' office on 9 January and asked whether he had paid taxes. Minkin was told that Chubais had not, but that he would soon, "at the latest by Tuesday." Minkin notes that under the law on state service a tax declaration must be filed when a person takes up a state job, and asks whether Chubais submitted such a declaration, and if so whether the $278,000 was reported. -- Peter Rutland LEBED WARNS OF APPROACHING CRISIS. Appearing on German ZDF television, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said he had spoken directly with Yeltsin on 14 January and advised him to resign if he could not carry out his duties because of poor health, Russian and Western media reported on 15 January. Lebed again warned that Russia could face a "social explosion" by March if urgent steps are not taken soon. In an interview published in the 15 January edition of Moskovskaya pravda, Lebed predicted that as the political and social situation deteriorates, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will be fired. He further speculated that Chubais will be appointed acting prime minister, and "with the help of his friends abroad" will mobilize enormous financial resources to pay overdue wages and pensions. -- Laura Belin STROEV REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT. Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev reemphasized his support for President Boris Yeltsin on 15 January, commenting that he was outraged by speculation about his political sympathies, ITAR-TASS reported. On 10 January, Stroev had called for amending the constitution, provoking criticism from the president's team that no changes were necessary in the three-year old document. The Federation Council speaker, however, noted that the constitution itself foresees amendments and that there are many loopholes which need to be filled. Stroev also stressed that, in contrast to the Duma, no one in the Federation Council had raised the question of removing Yeltsin on the grounds of his poor health. -- Robert Orttung DUMA EXAMINES BILL ON SECURING RUSSIA'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY. The Duma approved in first reading on 15 January a bill on preserving the country's territorial integrity. In the speeches before the vote, the deputies referred to pressure from Estonia, Japan, and China for Russian territory and the lack of a legal basis for countering Chechen secessionists, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill backs the use of military force when other means do not work. The current text also allows one of Russia's 89 republics and regions to give land to another, provided a referendum is held on that territory and two-thirds of the population approve the transfer, AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung SELEZNEV SEES IMPROVING EXECUTIVE-LEGISLATIVE RELATIONS. On the day the Duma opened its 1997 spring session, Speaker Gennadii Seleznev noted that 1996 was the first year in Russia's post-Soviet history that there were "more or less harmonious" relations between the two branches of power, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. Although the legislature made little progress on such important issues as the land code, Seleznev pointed to the progress on the 1997 budget as the Duma's main accomplishment for the past year. In the coming year, Seleznev stressed the need to adopt a law defining procedures for amending the constitution. The communists are seeking to transfer some of the president's enormous constitutional power to the legislature, stressing that Yeltsin's inability to perform his duties were creating a "crisis of power." -- Robert Orttung CHECHEN ELECTION UPDATE. Controversy continued on 15 January over whether and how Chechen refugees would be able to participate in the upcoming 27 January presidential elections in the republic, Russian media reported. NTV cited acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev as refuting reports that an agreement had been reached with federal authorities to open polling stations in Moscow, Stavropol, and several other Russian cities (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 January 1997). Yandarbiev denied even holding talks on the issue. The head of the Chechen electoral commission, Momadi Saidaev, told AFP that polling stations could be opened in Russia if Moscow immediately recognizes Chechen independence, but otherwise "voting will only take place on our territory." In Moscow on 16 January, the presidential human rights commission accused the Chechen authorities of organizing an "intentionally undemocratic" election by excluding refugees living outside the republic. -- Scott Parrish BEREZOVSKII MEETS COSSACK LEADERS. Addressing a meeting of southern Russian Cossack leaders in Stavropol Krai, Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii said that "crude military means" could not be used to resolve the Chechen crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. He also rejected demands by some Cossack leaders that federal troops occupy three northern districts of Chechnya which were transferred to the republic in 1957, and had large ethnic Russian populations before fighting began in 1994. He described the Khasavyurt agreement which negotiated an end to the conflict as "humiliating," but said that the federal government had to be "consistent" and implement it. He said there was no question ofBerezovskii also supported he idea of creating armed Cossack units to guard the Chechen-Russian frontier. Chechen officials have expressed worry about possible "provocations" by armed Cossacks hoping to undermine the 27 January Chechen presidential polls. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN APPROVES MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE. President Yeltsin has signed a law raising the minimum wage by 10% from 75,900 rubles to 83,490 rubles ($15) a month retroactive to 1 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. The bill was passed by the Federation Council on 25 December (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 December 1996). The minimum wage, multiples of which are used to calculate a wide range of benefits and legal penalties, was last raised in April 1996. -- Penny Morvant SABOTAGE SUSPECTED IN VLADIVOSTOK HEATING PLANT FAILURE. Pipes carrying hot water burst in dozens of apartment buildings in Vladivostok on 15 January after a closed valve at a central heating plant caused pressure in the pipes to rise, ITAR-TASS reported. Three schools, a kindergarten, a hospital and apartments in more than 50 buildings were flooded, and then left without heat. Damage is preliminarily estimated at 20 billion rubles ($3.5 million). A spokesman for the mayor's office on 16 January blamed the incident on sabotage, saying the administration had earlier received an anonymous call warning that such an accident might take place. Maintaining hot water and electricity supplies is one of the main challenges facing Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov in his first winter since being reinstated in office. -- Penny Morvant TAX COLLECTION IN 1996 STILL BELOW TARGET. Tax receipts in 1996 reached 202 trillion rubles, Izvestiya reported on 14 January. This was 40% up on the 1995 collection level in nominal terms, and 17% up in real terms. Still, the 1996 figure was 16% below the target level. The shortfall is due to tax arrears, lower than expected inflation, and the 6% fall in GDP. The government's decision to continue the practice of reserving part of companies' gross profits for paying salaries was responsible for the non-payment of another 3 trillion rubles of taxes to the federal budget. -- Natalia Gurushina in Moscow TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER IN TBILISI. The speaker of the parliament of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, Konstantin Dzugaev, has held talks in Tbilisi with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Parliament Speaker Zurab Zhvania, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. Dzugaev is the first South Ossetian official to visit Tbilisi since the region declared independence from Georgia in 1991. In a 13 January interview with Georgian Radio monitored by the BBC, Shevardnadze said "vigorous" Georgian-Ossetian negotiations will start soon. -- Emil Danielyan GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ UPDATE. The parliament of Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia adopted a statement urging the CIS heads of state to lift economic sanctions imposed on the region in January 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January, citing Abkhazpress. The statement says that the sanctions may "undermine" settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. Earlier, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Konstantin Ozgan warned that lifting sanctions is a precondition for the return of some 200,000 ethnic Georgian refugees to Abkhazia. In another statement, the Abkhaz parliament called on the Russian Federal Assembly to postpone the ratification of the Russo-Georgian agreement on friendship and cooperation, signed in February 1994, until the Abkhaz dispute is settled. The statement also says that the agreement's ratification would strengthen Georgia economically and militarily and thus encourage the latter "to resort to force in settling the conflict." -- Emil Danielyan FRICTION OVER CO-CHAIR OF KARABAKH NEGOTIATIONS. Friction has arisen within the OSCE over outgoing Chairman Flavio Cotti's decision to nominate France as co-chair of the deadlocked negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, RFE/RL reported on 15 January. The nomination was welcomed by Armenia but reportedly disappointed Azerbaijan. Baku preferred the United States to take up the post. An unnamed U.S. official said Washington is "still interested" in playing a mediating role along with permanent co-chair Russia, but would not reject France's obtaining the post if a consensus favoring Paris developed. Negotiations, which last took place in late November, are unlikely to resume until the chairmanship problem is solved. -- Lowell Bezanis PRIVATIZATION CONTINUES IN KAZAKSTAN. Kazakstan continues to offer major industries for sale in a bid to overhaul its infrastructure. RFE/RL reported on 15 January that there will be a tender for oil refineries at Pavlodar and Aktyubinsk in January. Six companies have already registered for the Pavlodar tender: Canada's Hurricane Hydrocarbons, which bought Yuzhneftegaz last year; American companies Axis Industries and Intermeditteranean; Britain's SS Oil; and Kazakstani companies Amadeus and Radikal. Less interest has been expressed in the Aktyubinsk refinery, which is smaller than the Pavlodar refinery and in worse condition but is closer to the huge Tengiz oil field. So far only the U.S. company Exxon has registered for that tender. Kazakstan's sale of the Vasiilkovskoe gold mine to British Diamonds Resources Company is expected to be finalized by the end of January. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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