|To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life. - Gelett Burgess|
No. 14, Part I, 21 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 PRIMAKOV, SOLANA, SHUN PRESS AFTER MEETING. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana avoided all contact with the media following five hours of closed-door talks at an official residence in suburban Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 January. Solana immediately returned to Brussels, and both NATO and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued similarly terse statements saying the "useful" session had established a "timetable" for further talks but admitting that "there are different approaches on a range of issues." It appears that Moscow continues to insist that any Russia-NATO agreement create a legally binding joint consultation mechanism giving Russia a voice in important alliance decisions, a move NATO officials have balked at. -- Scott Parrish REACTION TO PRIMAKOV-SOLANA TALKS. Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko), said that Russia should not settle for any security guarantees from NATO short of joining the alliance itself, according to a 20 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. Arbatov said Moscow "cannot be satisfied with signing another declaration or charter," adding that since Russia cannot halt NATO enlargement, it should seek to transform NATO into a multilateral security system. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, however, denounced the talks with Solana. The communist deputy argued that President Boris Yeltsin's foreign policy "had accustomed the West to constant concessions on our part," and charged that Solana had come to "persuade" or "maybe blackmail" Russia into accepting NATO expansion. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN REJECTS LUZHKOV'S STANCE ON SEVASTOPOL. In the wake of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's recent visit to Sevastopol, which has provoked harsh criticism from Kyiv (see related articles in Central and Eastern European section), Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 20 January said that Luzhkov's statements on the status of Sevastopol "should not be confused with the position of the president of the country and Russia in general with regard to Ukraine," ORT reported. Yastrzhembskii said Ukraine's territorial integrity had been recognized by the international community and guaranteed by Russia, a reference to the 1994 trilateral Russian-American-Ukrainian agreement under which Kyiv agreed to denuclearize and Moscow agreed to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. The Foreign Ministry also declared that Luzhkov's statments "do not reflect official policy and should be treated accordingly." -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN LEAVES HOSPITAL. President Yeltsin checked out of the Central Clinical Hospital on 20 January after 12 days and will continue recuperating at his suburban Moscow residence Gorkii-9, NTV reported. He was admitted on 8 January with pneumonia. This week the president is planning one or two meetings and a three- to four-hour daily work schedule, according to spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Nevertheless, he is still set to attend the CIS summit in Moscow at the end of January, meet with French President Jacques Chirac on 2 February, and visit The Hague on 3-4 February, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung AGRARIAN LEADER CALLS FOR NEW PROPERTY CONCEPT. Mikhail Lapshin has called on the Popular-Patriotic Union to re-evaluate its position on property rights in advance of the next presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. He blamed Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's loss in the 1996 election on his lack of support for private property and warned that the opposition must recognize this "obvious reality" in order to increase its electorate. Lapshin said that the Agrarian Party will add the right for peasants to own land to its program at its 22-23 March congress, bringing the party "closer to the center," Segodnya reported 20 January. -- Robert Orttung CHECHEN CANDIDATES FEUD . . . Former Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev told a public meeting in Grozny on 20 January that his fellow candidates Aslan Maskhadov and acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev are "crooks," and that he will not join their government if they win, Reuters reported. On 19 January, NTV broadcast a tape of a meeting of the Chechen State Defense Council on 16 January, at which state security head Abu Movsaev accused Avakho Arsanov, Maskhadov's vice-presidential running mate, of having been involved in the kidnappng of three Slovaks >from Ingushetiya last October. He said Arsanov, the former northern front commander, is still holding 17 captives for ransom. ITAR-TASS quoted Yandarbiev on 20 January as saying that Arsanov will be prosecuted. -- Peter Rutland . . . WHILE ELECTION PREPARATIONS CONTINUE. Chechen Electoral Commission head Mumadi Saidaev denied that not allowing voting outside the republic will make the 27 January election undemocratic, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. He noted that estimates of the number of refugees range from 100,000 to 350,000, and claimed many have already returned home. However, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev said on 19 January that not allowing refugees to vote where they live is a "serious mistake," Reuters reported. Although Russian authorities will not be involved in running the election, NTV reported on 19 January that Russia is cooperating by setting up the Severnyi Airport and providing helicopter transport for international observers. -- Peter Rutland ORT JOURNALISTS MISSING IN CHECHNYA. Chechen law enforcement agencies have been unable to locate two journalists working in Chechnya for Russian Public TV (ORT), ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. Roman Perevezentsev and Vladislav Tibelius left Grozny on 19 January for the capital of Ingushetiya, Nazran, where they planned to transmit reports to Moscow. However, they never turned up at the television station or at their hotel in Nazran. Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev said all journalists working in Chechnya are offered protection, but that the ORT correspondents left Grozny unaccompanied by any guards. -- Laura Belin LEBED IN D.C. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed met with senators William Roth and Robert Smith in Washington, RFE/RL reported on 20 January. Roth, who is also president of the North Atlantic Assembly which groups together legislators from all 16 NATO countries, characterized Lebed's position on NATO expansion as somewhat flexible. He said Lebed suggested that Russia has "voluntarily isolated itself" with its current stance on NATO expansion. On the same day, Lebed attended U.S. President Bill Clinton's inauguration ceremony in a public viewing area. Major Russian television networks either ignored or gave unfavorable coverage to the visit. Lebed told NTV that he was "modestly" representing Russia at the inauguration, since the president, prime minister, and chief of staff were not present. -- Laura Belin POLL: MOST RUSSIANS OPPOSE NATO EXPANSION. A VCIOM poll conducted from 13-17 January found that 50% of Russians oppose the admission of former Soviet republics into NATO and 41% say former Warsaw Pact members should not join the alliance, according to a 20 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The poll of 1,600 respondents across Russia found that only 13% support NATO membership for former Soviet republics and only 15% support the aims of former Warsaw Pact countries to join the alliance. However, 17% and 22% of respondents were indifferent to the issue of NATO membership for former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact members, respectively, while 20% and 22% were undecided. Asked how Russia should defend its interests, 26% said it should not join any alliances, 22% favored cooperation with NATO, 17% said Russia should form its own alliance with other CIS states, and 8% said Russia should join NATO. -- Scott Parrish NIKITIN'S WIFE LET INTO RUSSIA WITHOUT PROBLEMS. Tatyana Chernova, the wife of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, was allowed back into Russia without problems on 20 January despite fears that she might encounter difficulties, AFP reported. When Chernova left Russia last week for a brief visit to Norway, customs officials stamped her passport "exit for permanent residence abroad" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). Chernova has campaigned actively on behalf of her husband, who is facing charges of espionage for his part in a report by the Norwegian- based environmental group Bellona on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. -- Penny Morvant MOSCOW HOUSING FOR DEPUTIES. Izvestiya on 21 January reported on the latest attempt by Russia's parliamentarians to safeguard their housing benefits. Last week the Duma passed in all three readings amendments to the law on the Status of a Deputy of the Federal Assembly entitling deputies from outside Moscow to the equivalent of $60,000 to buy an apartment in the capital. The figure of $60,000 (330 million rubles) is derived from an estimate of the cost of housing a deputy for four years in a top-class hotel. There is insufficient official housing in part because not all former deputies have relinquished their apartments. According to Izvestiya, 69 deputies have privatized their flats and another 14 have received compensation payments. -- Penny Morvant FAR EASTERN FACTORY WORKERS PAID IN BRAS. Workers at a factory producing women's underwear in Vladivostok have been receiving bras in lieu of their wages, Izvestiya reported on 21 January. Short on cash, the factory has handed out seven to nine bras a month to both male and female employees. Owing to the problem of interenterprise debt and delays in the payment of state subsidies, workers at many enterprises receive wages in kind. -- Penny Morvant MORE DATA ON LIVING STANDARDS IN 1996. Real monthly wages grew 5% last year although real inm&me levels remüneEstable, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January, citing Goskomstat data. The average monthly wage in November was 835,000 rubles plus an average of 29,800 rubles in social payments. (These figures do not take into account delays in the payment of wages and benefits.) Goskomstat estimated the average December pension at 320,700 rubles, up from 246,700 at the beginning of 1996. The average subsistence minimum in December was 379,000 rubles a month; 22% of the population were living below the poverty line. -- Penny Morvant ECONOMIC SLUMP CONTINUES. Russia's GDP and industrial production fell by 6% and 5%, respectively, in 1996 over the previous year, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January, citing the State Statistical Committee. The largest decline was recorded in light industry (28%), construction materials (25%), and the chemical and petrochemical industry (11%). Oil production dropped 2% to 293 million metric tons and coal output fell 4% to 243 million tons, while the production of natural gas rose 1% to 575 billion cubic meters. The volume of investment totaled 370 trillion rubles, 18% down on 1995. Housing construction shrank 10% to 37 million square meters. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN PRESIDENT ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA. In his weekly interview on Georgian state radio, Eduard Shevardnadze described the development of a "close strategic alliance" between Georgia and Russia as "promising," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. Shevardnadze thanked the Russian government for allowing Georgia to postpone repayment of its $180 million debt to Russia until 2000. Shevardnadze said Russia "can and should play the key role" in resolving the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Meanwhile, Georgian Parliament Speaker Zurab Zhvania claimed that any special relationship with Russia will be "empty rhetoric" as long as the Abkhaz conflict is not settled. -- Emil Danielyan GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER IN SOUTH OSSETIA. Zurab Zhvania met behind closed doors with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia on the first visit by a top Georgian official to the breakaway region's capital, Tskhinvali, in five years, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The visit comes after President Eduard Shevardnadze's prediction of an imminent breakthrough in the Georgian-South Ossetian talks and South Ossetian Parliament Speaker Konstantin Dzugaev's subsequent visit to Tbilisi (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1997). -- Emil Danielyan AZERBAIJAN COMMEMORATES "BLACK JANUARY." Azerbaijan officially commemorated "Black January," when more than 130 people were killed and some 700 wounded in 1990, as thousands of Soviet interior and security forces moved into Baku to defend Soviet power from rising nationalist sentiment, Western and Russian media reported the same day. The intervention helped Azerbaijan Popular Front leader Abulfaz Elchibey come to power. The same day, Turan reported that 69 volumes of documentation relating to the January events were illegally seized and removed from Azerbaijan three years ago; the efforts of Azerbaijani law- enforcement organs to resecure them has won no favor with the responsible military court in Russia, according to the agency. -- Lowell Bezanis and Emil Danielyan STRIKE IN SOUTHERN KAZAKSTAN, NO HEAT IN NORTH. Workers at the Achisay Polymetal plant in Southern Kazakhstan have gone on strike to demand the payment of their back wages, RFE/RL reported on 21 January. According to sources in the Kazakstani Federation of Trade Unions, the strikers were joined by local transport system workers on 20 January. In other news, the city of Kokshetau in North Kazakstan has been unable to provide heat to some 15,000 apartments for two weeks. Temperatures in the city have dropped to -30 C. -- Merhat Sharipzhan TURKMENISTAN UPDATE. Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov on 18 January issued deeds to 80 farmers permitting them to use their lands in perpetuity, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Turkmenistan's new landowners are prohibited from transferring or reselling their property. The ceremony was held to mark the launch of Turkmenistan's efforts to reform its crisis-riden agricultural sector by moving toward private land ownership. In other news, a total of 123 drug smugglers were executed in Turkmenistan in 1996, according to a 13 January Vechernii Bishkek report monitored by the BBC. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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