|Some things have to be believed to be seen. - Ralph Hodgson|
No. 16, Part I, 23 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 DUMA BACKS OFF FROM IMPEACHMENT EFFORT AGAIN. The State Duma accepted a resolution to remove President Boris Yeltsin on health grounds "as a basis for further debate" by a vote of 229 to 63 but voted against adopting the resolution in full by a vote of 102 to 87, Russian media reported on 22 January. The resolution, which will allow deputies to return to the issue in February, was backed mainly by the Communist Party (KPRF) and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR). Many opposition deputies, including the Yabloko faction and leading figures in the left-wing Popular Power and Agrarian factions, voted against. Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii compared the Duma debate to a discussion with patients in a lunatic asylum; he accused the KPRF and LDPR of supporting the resolution in order to obscure the fact that they (unlike Yabloko) voted for the draft 1997 budget in December. -- Laura Belin MORE CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. Addressing the Federation Council on 22 January, Speaker Yegor Stroev again advocated amending the constitution to increase the parliament's authority, Russian media reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 and 14 January 1997). In an interview published in Moskovskie novosti (no. 3), Stroev suggested that the Duma should have the authority to confirm deputy prime ministers, while the Council should be able to confirm the power ministers. Currently the Duma confirms only the prime minister; all other cabinet ministers are appointed without parliamentary oversight. Also on 22 January, the Yabloko Duma faction released a statement saying "the way to break the deadlock" between the executive and legislative branches "lies not in attempts to remove the president from office for health reasons, for which there is as yet no legal basis, but in purposeful and logical steps to reform the constitutional structure," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin ADMINISTRATION CONSIDERING ITS OWN CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES? Stroev's initial calls for constitutional amendments were criticized by figures in the presidential administration. However, citing anonymous sources, Izvestiya reported on 23 January that the Kremlin is now considering delegating some presidential powers to the Security Council and possibly even more far-reaching constitutional changes. Whereas parliamentarians want to reduce the powers of the presidency, Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii recently told the American network CNN that more authority should be granted to the circle around Yeltsin. In addition, Izvestiya said the idea of having the president elected by the Federation Council rather than directly by the people "is gaining more and more popularity in ruling circles." The subject has been discussed with both pro-government and Communist Duma deputies, the paper said, noting that both the Communists and the "ruling elite" fear a potential triumph by Aleksandr Lebed in an early direct presidential election. -- Laura Belin MASKHADOV'S RUNNING MATE CHARGED WITH KIDNAPPING. Former Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov's running mate for the 27 January presidential election, Vakha Arsanov, has been formally charged with kidnapping, AFP reported on 22 January, citing Chechen Procurator-General Khavazh Serbiev. Arsanov went before an Islamic court the same day to rebut the accusation, originally leveled against him by acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. Serbiev said Arasanov could sue Yandarbiev for damages if the charges, which some view as politically motivated, are dismissed. Maskhadov is considered to be the front-runner in the presidential race. Meanwhile, at a Moscow ceremony, human rights advocate Sergei Kovalev accepted a "Knight of Honor" award granted to him by the late Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. Kovalev criticized the current Chechen authorities for not halting crime and kidnappings against ethnic Russians in the republic. He also described their decision not to facilitate voting by Chechen refugees living outside the republic as "undemocratic." -- Scott Parrish RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES OSCE FUNDING OF CHECHEN ELECTIONS . . . Yevgenii Primakov declared on 23 January that the OSCE had not received permission from any Russian government agencies to grant financial aid to the Chechen Electoral Commission for the scheduled 27 January presidential and parliamentary elections there, Russian and Western agencies reported. Russian officials have objected to the OSCE granting some $600,000 in technical aid for the elections, claiming the organization is interfering in Russia's internal affairs and violating Russian law, which bars the foreign funding of elections. The head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, Tim Guldimann, rebutted Primakov's accusations, saying his mission's actions fall within its mandate and are discussed daily with Russian officials, including Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin. Guldimann said the OSCE aid is necessary to assure the integrity and independence of the Chechen Electoral Commission, which has refused aid from its Russian counterpart. -- Scott Parrish . . . AND URGES FORMAL TREATY WITH NATO. Yevgenii Primakov discussed current foreign policy issues at a closed session of the Federation Council on 22 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Afterwards, he said that despite opening talks with the alliance, Russia remains firmly opposed to NATO enlargement on geopolitical, military, and what he termed "moral-psychological" grounds. He also insisted that any agreement outlining the relationship between Russia and the alliance not be a mere charter but a formal treaty subject to ratification by the Russian parliament and the legislatures of all 16 current NATO members. Reiterating Russian claims that Western countries are breaking informal pledges made in 1990 to then Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev not to include former Warsaw Pact countries in NATO, Primakov said Russia would now insist on getting any assurances from NATO codified in a "juridicially binding" international treaty. -- Scott Parrish U.S. CONCERNED ABOUT "OPERATION FOREIGNER." U.S. Embassy officials have expressed concern to the Russian Foreign Ministry over a recent surge of traffic inspections in Moscow that is apparently targeted against U.S. and Western diplomats (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997), Reuters reported on 22 January. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the action was apparently in retaliation for the 29 December traffic incident in New York involving a Russian and Belarusian diplomat, for which Moscow has demanded an apology from Washington. Burns said some Russian police have even told U.S. diplomats after stopping them for inspection: "now you know how it feels to be a Russian living in New York." Burns said the U.S. "respectfully" hopes that the campaign stops and assured Moscow that its diplomats are not being singled out on the streets of New York or Washington. -- Scott Parrish PAPER PUBLISHES MILITARY REFORM OUTLINE. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 22 January published what it said is an outline of the military reform program prepared by the staff of the Defense Council. The document states that military reform should proceed in two stages. The first stage, from 1997-2000, will optimize the size and organization of the military, considering "the country's limited economic potential." Defense Ministry personnel will be reduced to 1.2 million and other power ministries cut by 30%. From 2001-2009, when the economy is expected to improve, the armed forces will grow to 1.7 million, while resources are focused on long-term weapons development. The plan calls for abolishing the Ground Forces Command, merging the Air Defense Forces with the Air Force, and creating new unified Space Missile Forces and an Operational Strategic Forces Command. It also endorses first use of nuclear weapons under certain circumstances. -- Scott Parrish PENSION VOTE POSTPONED. The Federation Council on 22 January postponed voting on a draft law raising the minimum pension until 11 February, when the 1997 budget is due to be discussed, Segodnya and ITAR-TASS reported. The draft, which seeks to raise the pension by 10% to 76,530 rubles a month, was earlier rejected by the president on the grounds that it would exacerbate the problem of pension arrears. The Duma, however, overrode the veto on 25 December. (According to Pension Fund head Vasilii Barchuk, arrears totaled 1.7 trillion rubles on 17 January.) The Federation Council has now made passage of the law conditional upon the Duma's ability to find additional funds in the budget to cover the increase. The Federation Council also failed to muster enough votes to pass a controversial bill on the Russian Federation Human Rights Commissioner (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 December 1996). -- Penny Morvant POLLUTION LEVELS REMAIN HIGH. Despite the fall in industrial production, pollution levels in Russia remained unacceptably high in 1996, State Environmental Protection Committee Chairman Viktor Danilov-Danilyan said on 22 January. Air pollution exceeded admissible levels in more than 200 cities with a total population of more than 60 million, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. In 120 of those cities, pollution levels were five times the permitted maximum. Danilov-Danilyan added that water pollution levels remained high and that Russia is losing 150,000 to 180,000 hectares of woodland each year, one-third of it because of forest fires. Poaching is also a growing problem. Russia's ecological problems date back to the Soviet era, but environmental protection remains a low priority for many officials and businessmen. -- Penny Morvant SMALL BUSINESSES IN 1996. The number of small businesses operating in Russia--mainly in trade, catering, industry, and construction--reached about 810,000 last year, ITAR-TASS and Izvestiya reported on 22 January. Investment in small businesses last year reached 28.2 trillion rubles, or 8% of total investment in the economy. Small businesses accounted for 10%-12% of GDP (this share is expected to increase to 30% by 2000) and for 20% of local budgetary revenue (50% in Moscow). During the year, small businesses created 1 million new jobs and now employ more than 14 million people. Although the economic importance of small businesses is growing, their geographical distribution is still very uneven--in Moscow, small businesses employ 31% of the working population, while in Mordovia they employ only 2%. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA UN RECOMMENDS RENEWAL OF OBSERVER MISSION IN GEORGIA. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on 22 January recommended that the mandate of the 125-member UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) be extended by another six months, Reuters reported. UNOMIG and the Russian peacekeeping forces are responsible for monitoring and securing the 1993 ceasefire agreement between Georgia and the breakaway Republic of Abkhazia. The latest UN report on the situation in the region said that the conflict's key issues, namely Abkhazia's future political status and the return of the refugees, have yet to be resolved. Commenting on the recent direct talks between Georgian and Abkhaz officials, Annan said the UN should help the two sides in their "apparent attempt to unblock the peace settlement." Annan called on the conflicting parties to "take effective measures" to counter the terrorism and acts of violence that periodically occur in Abkhazia. -- Emil Danielyan MORE ON MANSUROV CASE. Azerbaijani State Ecology Committee Chairman Arif Mansurov has been accused of helping to prepare the escape from jail of several prominent figures allegedly involved in what is officially described as the October 1994 coup attempt, Turan reported on 22 January. According to the agency, Mansurov is purported to have helped Rahim Gaziev and Alikram Humbatov escape from prison and travel to Lenkoran. Mansurov is also alleged to have cooperated with former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov on the purported coup attempt. One of Mansurov's employees at the committee, Asad Kyazimov, was arrested on 19 January. He is accused of failing to turn in Mansurov. -- Lowell Bezanis ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT, GAZPROM TO START JOINT VENTURE. During their 17 January meeting in Moscow, Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan and the president of Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom, Rem Vyakhirev, agreed that Armenia will receive natural gas from a pipeline that will run from Russia to Turkey via Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported on 22 January. The pipeline has a projected annual capacity of up to 9 billion cubic meters of gas. Turkmenistan has been Armenia's sole natural gas supplier to date. -- Emil Danielyan DEMONSTRATION IN KYRGYZSTAN. Thirty people gathered in front of the Kyrgyz government building in Bishkek to protest the jailing of Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party Chairman Topchubek Turgunaliyev, RFE/RL reported. The group handed a petition, addressed to President Askar Akayev, to government officials. They then marched to the Supreme Court building and delivered another petition. Turgunaliyev is facing a 10-year prison term on charges of embezzling $10,000. The case is being appealed. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov TAJIK GOVERNMENT'S VIEW OF NATIONAL REVIVAL MOVEMENT. Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov has said that Abdumalik Abdullajonov's National Revival Movement will not have a role in the current negotiations between the government and the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. However, Nazarov added that the UTO is free to give up some of its allotted seats on the anticipated National Reconciliation Commission in order to make room for other groups. Nazarov described Abdullajonov's movement as a regional group, representing the interests of Tajikistan's northern Leninabad Oblast. The minister said the next round of talks is scheduled to begin on 26 February in either Moscow or Tehran. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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