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No. 24, Part I, 4 February 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 *********************************************************************** OMRI, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Announcement: Due to a restructuring of operations at the Open Media Research Institute, OMRI will cease publication of the OMRI Daily Digest with the issue dated 28 March 1997. For more information on the restructuring of the Institute, please access the 21 November 1996 Press Release at: http://www.omri.cz/about/PressRelease.html On 2 April, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will launch a daily news report, RFE/RL Newsline, on the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A successor to the RFE/RL Daily Report and the OMRI Daily Digest, the new daily will nonetheless represent a major departure from its predecessors. In addition to analytic materials, RFE/RL Newsline will carry news gathered by the correspondents, bureaus, and broadcast services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RL will disseminate this new publication both electronically and via fax to all those now receiving the OMRI Daily Digest and for the time being under the same terms. OMRI will continue to publish the periodical Transition, for more information on Transition please access http://www.omri.cz/publications/transition/index.html or send a request for information to: transition-DD@omri.cz ********************************************************************* RUSSIA CHERNOMYRDIN DENOUNCES NATO EXPANSION . . . Continuing a coordinated campaign of public diplomacy against NATO expansion, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told The Washington Post in an interview published on 4 February that NATO expansion will bolster the position of Russian nationalists who want armed confrontation with the West. "The West wants us to explain to our people that there is nothing to fear," said Chernomyrdin, adding, "How can we explain this? Nobody is going to listen to any explanations." Emphasizing that "I'm worried about what might happen in Russia," Chernomyrdin derided Western efforts "to comfort us" over the issue. He also hardened the Russian stance on a proposed NATO-Russia security agreement, terming an informal charter "unacceptable," and demanding that NATO sign with Russia a "binding treaty, with verification," pledging to transform itself from a defense alliance into a "political organization" that does not view Russia as a threat and potential adversary. -- Scott Parrish . . . AS DOES CHUBAIS. Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 3 February, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais declared that if NATO accepts new members without addressing Russian concerns, it would be "the biggest mistake the West has made in 50 years," Russian and Western agencies reported. In remarks he said were cleared with Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Chubais, who rarely speaks out on foreign policy, warned that NATO expansion would trigger "serious changes" in European politics and force Russia to reconsider its attitude toward Western economic institutions. He argued that advocates of NATO expansion, "not understanding the real situation in Russia," were actually playing into the hands of "nationalists" and "anti-Western forces" in Moscow. Like Chernomyrdin, Chubais urged NATO to conclude a "legally binding" agreement with Russia before beginning enlargement. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN'S HEALTH STILL ON DUMA'S AGENDA. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, who sponsored a resolution last month to remove President Boris Yeltsin on health grounds, told Ekho Moskvy on 3 February that the Duma will again consider the measure this week. However, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 4 February that the resolution, passed as a basis for further discussion on 22 January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 January 1997), will be revised before it is put to a final vote, and will merely ask Yeltsin to resign. Legal experts have mostly agreed that the Duma lacks the authority to dismiss the president for health reasons. Meanwhile, presidential Spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 3 February that other than his regular weekly meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin will hold few meetings this week, as he is working on his annual message to parliament, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Laura Belin SCANDAL AT RUSSIAN TV. Russian TV (RTR) Chairman Eduard Sagalaev threatened to sue current and former RTR executives who published a statement in the latest edition of Novaya gazeta accusing him of destroying the state-run television network, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 February. The disgruntled executives blamed Sagalaev for what they called the "utter commercialization and degradation" of RTR, Russia's Channel 2 broadcaster. One of the signatories, RTR News Programming Director Aleksandr Nekhoroshev, told Ekho Moskvy that Sagalaev had replaced valuable social and political programs with light entertainment. Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 4 February that Sagalaev, appointed RTR chairman in February 1996, may soon be sacked. Among his possible replacements are NTV President Igor Malashenko, RTR journalist Nikolai Svanidze, and political consultant Vyacheslav Nikonov. -- Laura Belin FIRST DEPUTY FINANCE MINISTER'S CAR BOMBED. A minor explosion damaged the official car of First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov in central Moscow on 3 February, but no one was hurt, Russian and Western agencies reported. Vavilov's SAAB-9000 was standing empty near the ministry building when the blast damaged its windshield and door. ITAR- TASS quoted an investigator as saying the blast could have been a warning from private companies. Vavilov's duties have included authorizing banks to handle state funds. -- Penny Morvant CHECHEN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS UPDATE. Second-round parliamentary elections will take place in 55 of 63 districts in Chechnya on 15 February, the Chechen Central Electoral Commission announced on 3 February. Field Commander Abubakar Magomadov was one of only four candidates who managed to win more than half of the votes in the first round, thereby earning a seat outright, ITAR-TASS reported. In the remaining four districts, the elections will be repeated because of various violations. The new parliament will be divided among a number of recently created and poorly defined political parties. -- Robert Orttung ROSVORUZHENIE PLANS TO OVERTAKE U.S. BY 1998. Mikhail Timkin, deputy director of the state arms export company Rosvoruzehnie, told ITAR-TASS on 3 February that the firm has developed a "strategic plan" to expand Russian arms exports, which will allow Russia to overtake the U.S. in arms sales by 1998. Timkin said Rosvoruzhenie plans to market 200-300 of the most advanced Russian weapons systems, focusing on increasing sales in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In an interview with Russian TV on 2 February, Rosvoruzhenie head Aleksandr Kotelkin said his agency was "very proud" of its recent sale of Mi-17 transport helicopters to Colombia, and confirmed that the controversial deal selling S-300 air defense missiles to Cyprus had been approved by President Yeltsin and would proceed despite international criticism. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA, MONGOLIA, SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENT. Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and his Mongolian counterpart Dambiin Dorligjav signed a military cooperation agreement for 1997 on 3 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Izvestiya reported that although a 1993 bilateral military cooperation agreement has produced few results, Moscow now hopes to trade military aid for Mongolian support of Russian objections to NATO expansion. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry continues to face a serious financial crisis. Writing in Segodnya on 31 January, military commentator Pavel Felgengauer said the ministry's debts now total 34 trillion rubles ($6.1 billion), including 5 trillion in wages owed to servicemen. The paper said Rodionov personally oversees the allocation of limited funds among Russia's eight military districts, "according to the actual situation." Felgengauer said the ministry still hopes the financial crisis will convince the government to increase the military budget. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA TO ISSUE EUROBONDS TO PAY PENSIONS. Russia will launch two or three Eurobonds this year to pay wages and pensions, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said on 3 February. He added that the first, of DM 1 billion ($606 million), will be issued by the end of March, AFP reported. In November, Russia issued a five-year Eurobond offering a yield of 9.25% to raise $1 billion; the issue was twice over-subscribed. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin, meanwhile, said that in order to ensure the payment of current pensions the Finance Ministry and Russian Pension Fund have had to rethink a timetable agreed a week ago to pay off the bulk of pension arrears in February and March, ITAR-TASS reported. The new agreement postpones the settlement of much of the debt to April-June, Segodnya reported on 1 February. According to Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk, the debt to pensioners should fall from 17.1 trillion rubles to 14.5 trillion by the end of February. -- Penny Morvant POTANIN SAYS 1997 PRIVATIZATION TARGET TOO HIGH. First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin said that the 1997 privatization revenue target of 6 trillion rubles ($1.1 billion at the current exchange rate) is too high and will be difficult to meet, ITAR-TASS and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3-4 February. Potanin, recently appointed head of the government commission on collecting privatization revenue for the federal budget, argued that setting targets at the beginning of the year is "unproductive" since attempts to meet them may cause conflicts over sales of equity stakes in certain companies. Potanin proposed instead increasing other types of revenue, such as taxes on production and sale of alcohol, which could net 10-12 trillion rubles a year. -- Natalia Gurushina CONFLICT WITHIN NORILSK NIKEL. Employees of the Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Plant (NGMK) have expressed no-confidence in the management of their parent company Norilsk Nikel and the Moscow-based ONEKSIMbank, which holds a controlling interest in Norilsk Nikel, ITAR- TASS and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3-4 February. The workers are demanding that Norilsk Nikel pay 1 trillion rubles ($180 million) in wage arrears, increase the minimum wage to 500,000 rubles, and increase the wage compensation coefficient for working in the northern region. They threatened to call for the dismissal of Norilsk Nickel and NGMK management and the revocation of ONEKSIMbank's controlling interest in Norilsk Nikel if their demands are not met by 20 February. Norilsk Nikel officials say the company's ability to solve the wage problem is limited, since tax police sequestered 626 billion rubles worth of output in July 1996. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA SHEVARDNADZE IN FRANCE. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze arrived in Paris for a three-day state visit on 3 February, Western media reported. Following talks with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac, Shevardnadze was quoted as saying Georgia welcomes France's intention to conduct an "active policy" in the Caucasus and Georgia was "moving in the direction" of the European Union but had no ambitions to join NATO because "no one would take it seriously." Chirac suggested Paris intends to support Tbilisi's bid to join the Council of Europe. -- Lowell Bezanis IRAN AND ARMENIA. Armenian parliamentary Speaker Bakken Ararktsyan held talks with top Iranian officials in Tehran from 1-3 February, Iranian and Western media reported. Ararktsyan's Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Natek Nuri, was quoted by Iranian media as saying the two sides had reached "important decisions," including the construction of a pipeline to carry Iranian gas to Armenia. No further details were given. Iranian Vice President Hasan Habibi reiterated Tehran's standing offer, which is anathema to Azerbaijan, to mediate in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Ararktsyan voiced hopes that the recently formed Iran-Armenia joint committee would speed up implementation of existing agreements and that joint ventures in gas, tire manufacturing, transport, and petrochemicals would be established in the future. -- Lowell Bezanis SUSPECT SENTENCED TO DEATH FOR KILLING RUSSIAN SOLDIERS. A Dushanbe court on 3 February found 30-year-old Aleksandr Gayurov guilty of murdering two Russian soldiers in February 1995 and sentenced him to be shot, NTV reported. Gayurov's lawyer says his client received a "cursory and unprofessional trial" and plans to appeal. In a related story, the Russian magazine Itogi on 4 February published a poll on the presence of Russian soldiers in Tajikistan. According a VCIOM survey of 1,600 Russians, 20% said the troops should remain, 12% said their number should be increased, 50% wanted them pulled out, and 18% had trouble answering the question. Russian soldiers make up the core of both the 201st Motorized Division and the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan. During the last two years more than 60 have been killed, many away from the scenes of fighting. -- Bruce Pannier KAZAKSTANI UNIONS READY TO STRIKE. A leader of the Kazakh Free Trade Unions Confederation, Leonid Solomin, warned the government that if wage arrears are not paid soon strikes could sweep the country, Reuters reported on 3 February. Solomin noted that 254 miners at the Achisaysky non-ferrous metals plant in Kentau have occupied administrative buildings since mid-January demanding their unpaid wages, which now total 40 million tenge ($500,000). Solomin said many had not been paid for eight months and some for as long as two years. Teachers in Kazakstan's northern Semipalatinsk Region are threatening to strike later this week. Total wage and pension arrears are estimated to be approaching $1 billion. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has several times ordered the problem to be solved, but some fear that a sudden payment of the outstanding wages will drastically devalue the country's currency. -- Bruce Pannier FUND ESTABLISHED IN MEMORY OF MURDERED U.S. JOURNALIST. The Internews network on 3 February announced the creation of the Chris Gehring Memorial Fund to aid journalists in Central Asia. Gehring, 28, was the head of an Internews project in Kazakstan until he was found murdered in his Almaty apartment on 9 January. The fund will be used to continue Gehring's work, and will include an annual prize for journalists and a legal defense fund for journalists working in the area. Internews, a non-profit organization, provides assistance to more than 100 independent electronic media organizations in Central Asia. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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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