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No. 17, Part I, 24 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 FEDERATION COUNCIL ASSAILS BEREZOVSKII ON COSSACK QUESTION. Federation Council deputies on 23 January strongly criticized Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii's proposal to arm Cossacks living near Chechnya, Russian and Western media reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 and 20 January 1997). Deputies intially considered calling on President Boris Yeltsin to sack Berezovskii, but a demand for his dismissal was not included in the final version of a resolution discussing the situation in the North Caucasus. Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev said that although the upper house has nothing personal against Berezovskii, any plan to arm a civilian population in the Caucasus is "madness" and could lead to another war in the region, Ekho Moskvy reported. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS BILL ON DEPUTIES' HOUSING . . . The Federation Council voted unanimously on 23 January to reject an amendment to the law on the status of deputies that would have entitled them to about 300 million rubles ($60,000) each from the federal budget to purchase housing in Moscow (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 January 1996). According to Segodnya on 24 January, members of the parliament's upper house suggested that the Duma deputies allocate the money they were prepared to spend on themselves--some 135 billion rubles--to pensions and social benefits. Izvestiya noted that not all Duma deputies had supported the amendment: four members of the Yabloko faction sent a letter to the Federation Council deploring the proposal. It is not clear what will happen to the 14 deputies who have already received housing compensation payments. -- Penny Morvant . . . AND TWO OTHER BILLS. The Federation Council has rejected a bill that would have introduced a 0.5% tax on purchases of foreign currency by individuals, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 January. Deputies said that the law--which was passed by the State Duma in December 1996--would violate individual rights and resurrect the black market in foreign currency. The measure would have raised an estimated 2.3 trillion rubles ($410 million) for the 1997 federal budget. The Council also rejected a draft law regulating the destruction of Russia's chemical weapons stockpile. Deputies felt the bill inadequately addressed environmental and safety issues. The lack of appropriate legislation has hindered efforts to begin liquidating Russia's 40,000 metric tons of chemical weapons, as called for in the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which Russia has signed but not ratified. -- Natalia Gurushina and Scott Parrish DUMA DISCUSSES BUDGET, POSTPONES DISCUSSION OF CHUBAIS'S TAXES. The State Duma postponed a scheduled discussion of tax evasion allegations against Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais in order to devote its 24 January session entirely to the fourth and final reading of the 1997 budget, NTV reported on 23 January. A resolution demanding that Yeltsin dismiss Chubais and that the Procurator-General's Office investigate Chubais's financial dealings will be debated in early February, according to the 24 January Nezavisimaya gazeta. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin proposed the hearings on Chubais following a series of publications in the weekly Novaya gazeta, which claimed that Chubais did not pay taxes on $278,000 he earned in 1996 while working on President Yeltsin's re-election campaign (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 and 22 January 1997). -- Laura Belin CHERNOMYRDIN SLAMS LIVSHITS, YASIN. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has announced that Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits and Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin will be reprimanded for failing to make a significant dent in the payment of wage arrears, which topped 52 trillion rubles ($9.3 billion) in December 1996, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 23 January. The key reasons for the worsening arrears situation include poor implementation of the federal budget and a lack of financial discipline among companies and organizations. Yasin has stressed that the government will not resort to printing money in order to resolve the problem. Chernomyrdin gave First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin two weeks to prepare a package of measures to deal with the problem. Chernomyrdin also said taxes should be reduced for industrial companies in 1997 and that the 1998 budget should include such cuts. -- Natalia Gurushina GROZNY RENAMED DZHOKHAR-GALA. A crowd of 8,000 gathered at a pro- independence rally in central Grozny on 23 January, which was addressed by acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and former Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov, both leading candidates in the 27 January presidential election, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yandarbiev told the cheering crowd, some of whom carried banners reading "Freedom or Death," that the Chechen parliament had posthumously promoted late Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev to the rank of generalissimo. He also announced that he was renaming the Chechen capital Dzhokhar-Gala in honor of the late president, who was killed in a Russian missile attack last April. Maskhadov, whose running mate has been accused of kidnapping, called on his presidential rivals not to sow dissent and allow the voters to calmly pick their next leader, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Scott Parrish CONTROVERSY OVER OSCE ROLE IN CHECHNYA CONTINUES. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov spoke by telephone on 23 January with Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen, who currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov expressed concern that the OSCE was directly financing the Chechen Electoral Commission without permission from Moscow. According to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, Russia supports OSCE financing for international election observers and technical aid such as ballot boxes but still regards the election as an "internal matter" of Russia. Primakov called on the OSCE to convince the Chechen authorities to allow refugees outside the republic to vote. He also told Petersen that the OSCE mission in Chechnya should be reviewed after the 27 January elections. Russian officials are concerned that the OSCE role in the elections, which are being held without financial assistance from Russia, will bolster Chechen claims to independence. -- Scott Parrish SUSPECTED ABDUCTORS OF ORT JOURNALISTS DETAINED. Chechen First Deputy Interior Minister Vakha Zakriev announced on 23 January that two men suspected of abducting Russian journalists Roman Perevezentsev and Vladislav Tibelius have been detained, ITAR-TASS reported. Perevezentsev and Tibelius, correspondents for Russian Public TV (ORT), went missing on 19 January en route from Grozny to the capital of Ingushetiya, Nazran. Zakriev said witnesses had seen the journalists alive and healthy on the evening of 22 January. -- Laura Belin SHAIMIEV ENDORSES CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS. In an interview published in the 24 January edition of the newspaper Respublika Tatarstan, Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev advocated constitutional amendments to increase the powers of the parliament, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. He noted, "We all know how [the constitution] was prepared, in what circumstances it was adopted." (Drafted by Yeltsin's associates, the constitution was passed by a controversial referendum in December 1993, little more than two months after tanks shelled Yeltsin's parliamentary opponents out of the Supreme Soviet.) Shaimiev acknowledged that the constitutions of many of Russia's 21 republics contradict the federal constitution; he advocated amending both federal and republican constitutions as a compromise solution. Like Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, who has also called for increasing parliamentary powers, Shaimiev is normally a loyal Yeltsin ally. His comments suggest that a consensus in favor of constitutional amendments may be forming in the upper house of parliament. -- Laura Belin POLITICAL CRISIS IN ALTAI REPUBLIC. The Altai Republic legislature passed a resolution on 23 January dismissing the republican government, headed by Vladimir Petrov, ITAR-TASS reported. At a morning session of the 27-member State Assembly (El Kurultai), scheduled to discuss the republic's draft constitution and budget for 1997, a majority of deputies present called for the resignation of the government on the grounds that it had failed to tackle the republic's economic difficulties and lost the trust of the people. Later the same day, 18 of 22 deputies taking part in the session voted in a secret ballot to sack the government. The deputies gave parliament Chairman Valerii Chaptynov a week to nominate new candidates for the post of government head. Some deputies also called for the resignation of Chaptynov. The Altai Republic is experiencing a severe economic crisis, with lengthy delays in the payment of wages, pensions, and other benefits. -- Penny Morvant REACTIONS TO START III PROPOSAL. Russian parliamentary deputies on 23 January reacted guardedly to reports that Washington is ready to propose rapidly opening talks on START III in order to facilitate ratification of START II, Western agencies reported. Duma International Affairs Committe Chairman Vladimir Lukin said START III is a good idea, "if we can go ahead without ratification of START II." Communist Deputy Aleksei Podberezkin also supported a START III agreement, but linked it with "America fulfilling different conditions," a possible reference to NATO enlargement. Pentagon spokesman Kevin Bacon confirmed the same day that Washington will propose opening talks on a START III agreement reducing each country's strategic arsenal far below the 3,500 warhead ceiling set by START II. Such an agreement could address some Russian concerns over the cost of implementing START II, but Bacon emphasized that Washington will still insist on ratification of START II before opening new talks. -- Scott Parrish TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER ON RELATIONS WITH RUSSIA, U.S. Armen Sarkisyan on 23 January refuted Armenian media reports that the country plans to sign a confederative agreement with Russia similar to the April 1996 Russian-Belarusian community treaty, Armenian and Russian media reported. Sarkisyan said Armenia will continue to cooperate with Russia on an "equal and mutually beneficial" basis. He described the agreement with Gazprom on setting up a joint Russian-Armenian venture (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 January 1997) as "extremely important," saying it is a "first step to end Armenia's economic blockade." Sarkisyan said he is satisfied with his recent visit to the U.S., adding that 1997 will see "a new page" in relations between the two countries. He also said U.S. politicians and entrepreneurs are expressing a growing interest in Armenia. Sarkisyan denied that the U.S. put pressure on Armenia to hold early parliamentary elections. -- Emil Danielyan RUSSIAN GENERAL: RUSSIAN TROOPS ARE LIKELY TO REMAIN IN ARMENIA. Maj.- Gen. Aleksei Tretyakov, commander of Russian troops stationed in Armenia, said the March 1995 agreement between the Russian and Armenian presidents on the Russian military base is unlikely to be revised, Snark reported on 21 January. Recent reports in the Russian media have suggested that the Russian General Staff is questioning the strategic value of maintaining Russian troops in Armenia and Georgia. Tretyakov said the troops are "protecting the interests of Russia and Armenia" along the external border of the CIS, adding that they will not intervene in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. -- Emil Danielyan AZERBAIJANI AMBASSADOR SUES PAPER. Azerbaijani Ambassador to Russia Ramiz Rezaev has sued the Russian newspaper Pravda-5 for defamation of character after the paper published an article alleging he was a heavy drinker and unwelcome in various diplomatic settings, Radio Rossii reported on 23 January. Rezaev is reportedly seeking 15 billion rubles (about $2.5 million) in damages. Pravda-5 has apologized to Rezaev for the publication. -- Lowell Bezanis and Emil Danielyan NEW REGULATIONS FOR FOREIGNERS STAYING IN ASHGABAT. Ashgabat's mayor has issued an order requiring all visitors to the Turkmen capital to stay in officially approved hotels, RFE/RL reported on 23 January. Foreigners arriving in Ashgabat with their families will be exempted from the new rule if they sign leases with the city authorities. The order also obliges all government offices and businesses inviting foreigners to Turkmenistan to register their presence with the local authorities. -- Lowell Bezanis THREE KILLED IN TAJIK CAPITAL. Three Russians, two of them women, were killed in Dushanbe on 23 January, AFP reported. Oleg Motus, described as a "Cossack military commander," was shot at close range along with his mother and his fiancee. Motus, born in Tajikistan, had returned to work on a humanitarian aid project. While open warfare in Tajikistan has been brought to a halt since the 23 December signing of a ceasefire agreement between the government and the United Tajik Opposition, Russian soldiers serving in Tajikistan have recently become targets of a terror campaign. Civilians have not been exempt from random acts of violence but have not usually been singled out as targets. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ SUBSCRIBING/UNSUBSCRIBING 1) Compose a message to firstname.lastname@example.org 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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