|We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us. - George Eliot|
No. 25, Part I, 5 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 KULIKOV GETS POWERFUL NEW POST. President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree on 4 February appointing Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov the government's ninth deputy prime minister, international agencies reported. Army General Kulikov, who will retain his powerful Interior Ministry post, will also be responsible for the Tax Police, the Customs Service, and economic security. Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, said Kulikov's promotion was aimed at improving coordination in the fight against crime, particularly in the economic sphere. The long-rumored appointment gives Kulikov expanded powers on the critical issue of tax collection, presided over by presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, but, contrary to some predictions, it does not give him jurisdiction over the military. Kulikov, who is widely viewed as a conservative, is well-regarded by the left-wing majority in the Duma. He was critical of the Chechen peace deal and instrumental in the ouster of former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed. -- Penny Morvant OSCE MISSION HEAD EXPELLED FROM CHECHNYA. Tim Guldimann, the head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, was called to the Chechen Foreign Ministry on 4 February and declared persona non grata, Russian and Western agencies reported. According to an OSCE spokesman, Chechen Foreign Minister Ruslan Chimaev, a member of outgoing President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's government, expelled Guldimann because of his recent public statements that Chechnya remains part of the Russian Federation. Guldimann left Grozny the same day for Nazran, the capital of neighboring Ingushetiya. Ironically, the Swiss diplomat's mediation efforts had earlier drawn criticism from pro-Moscow Chechen leader Doku Zavgaev and the Russian Duma, which accused Guldimann of facilitating Chechnya's secession from Russia. An anonymous source close to Chechen president-elect Aslan Maskhadov, however, told ITAR-TASS that Maskhadov did not support Guldimann's expulsion, saying he could still help Grozny and Moscow resolve their outstanding differences. -- Scott Parrish DUMA REFERS RESOLUTION ON YELTSIN'S HEALTH FOR FURTHER REVISION. The State Duma Council referred a motion to remove Yeltsin on health grounds to three Duma committees for examination and refused to include it on the agenda for the Duma's 5 February plenary session, Russian media reported on 4 February. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading Communist who sponsored the resolution, indicated that the final version of the motion will merely ask Yeltsin to step down voluntarily. The Duma Council's decision followed escalating rhetoric from the pro-Yeltsin camp in the last two days. Both Yeltsin's representative to the Constitutional Court Sergei Shakhrai and Duma Deputy Aleksandr Shokhin (Our Home Is Russia) have warned that, if the Duma demanded the president's dismissal on health grounds, Yeltsin might dissolve the lower house for violating Article 3 of the constitution, which prohibits attempts to seize power, RIA-Novosti reported. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN AND CHERNOMYRDIN DISCUSS FOREIGN POLICY. Yeltsin met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 4 February for an hour-long meeting which focused on foreign policy issues, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the two leaders discussed the upcoming 5-7 February session of the U.S.-Russian economic cooperation commission in Washington, D.C., which Chernomyrdin will co-chair with U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Yastrzhembskii said the Russian delegation will present a bilateral economic cooperation plan for 1997-2000, aiming to boost direct U.S. investment in the Russian economy. He added that the issue of NATO expansion would also be on the agenda. While public Russian criticism of the alliance's expansion plans has recently escalated, U.S. President Bill Clinton pledged in his state of the union address on 4 February that "we must expand NATO by 1999." -- Scott Parrish ZYUGANOV STILL DOUBTS PRESIDENT'S FITNESS. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 4 February insisted that despite the president's recent publicized meetings in the Kremlin, "Mr. Yeltsin is absolutely unable to function," NTV reported. Zyuganov said that on a recent trip to Western Europe he saw video footage of Yeltsin's 4 January meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl. "Now I understand why our Russian television [networks] do not show these tapes," he commented. Meanwhile, footage of Yeltsin's 4 February meeting with Chernomyrdin, which was aired on Russian TV (RTR), showed the president looking pale and tired, with an unsteady walk, according to the BBC. -- Laura Belin LUZHKOV: RUSSIA CAN COUNTER NATO EXPANSION. Continuing the foreign policy rhetoric that many link with his presidential ambitions, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov told a news conference on 4 February that "Russia is strong enough to take defensive measures which will force hot heads in the West to reconsider" expanding NATO, ITAR-TASS reported. Luzhkov accused the West of using Russia's current economic difficulties to renege on earlier pledges not to expand NATO eastward. He recommended that Russia take "a rigid and adequate" stance on the issue, which he argued would force the West to back down. In response to a question about Ukraine's desire for an "enhanced relationship" with the alliance, Luzhkov retorted that "Ukraine will not be so stupid as to join NATO." -- Scott Parrish MOSCOW CRITICIZES COUNCIL OF EUROPE ON ESTONIA. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin on 4 February accused the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe of employing "double standards" when it decided to end human rights monitoring in Estonia, ITAR-TASS and BNS reported. Demurin argued that although the assembly admitted Estonia does not meet European human rights standards, it nonetheless voted on 30 January to end monitoring, despite objections by the Russian delegation. He complained that Tallinn was now using the assembly decision to justify its refusal to conduct talks with Moscow about the Russian minority in Estonia. While the assembly did say that Estonia needs to maintain the availability of Russian-language education and simplify the Estonian language exams required for citizenship, it also praised Tallinn's "rapid success" in meeting European human rights criteria. -- Scott Parrish FORMER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN TROUBLE WITH TAX POLICE. Billionaire Vladimir Bryntsalov, who finished last in the 1996 presidential election, has been accused of tax dodging, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. A Moscow government official claimed that Bryntsalov has reregistered his Moscow-based pharmaceutical company Ferein in Kabardino-Balkariya in order to avoid paying 18 billion rubles in taxes and other mandatory payments, such as pension fund contributions. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said he would inform Valerii Kokov, the new president of Kabardino-Balkariya, of Bryntsalov's intentions and threatened to use the Moscow Property Committee to evict Ferein from its Moscow real estate. -- Penny Morvant PENSION REFORM DEBATED. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin told ITAR-TASS on 5 February that the government has submitted two draft laws on pension reform to President Yeltsin. Under the drafts, he said, pensions would consist of two parts: the base pension, equal to 80% of the subsistence minimum for pensioners; and an additional sum dependent upon the size of the pensioner's former salary and the length of time he or she contributed to the Pension Fund. He denied that the pension age-- 55 for women and 60 for men--would be raised in the near future but admitted that a proposal to reduce payments to working pensioners is under discussion. The money freed by such a scheme would be used to raise pensions for the poorest groups, he said. On 4 February, the Communist faction in the Duma, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions, and the Union of Pensioners all spoke out strongly against plans to adjust payments to Russia's numerous working pensioners. -- Penny Morvant DUTCH AND FRENCH BANKS TO FINANCE SAKHALIN-1 PROJECT. Russian participants in the Sakhalin-1 oil project have signed a financial agreement with the Dutch bank ABN-AMRO and the French bank Lazard Freres & Cie, Kommersant-Daily and Segodnya reported on 4 February. Rosneft and Sakhalinmorneftegaz --which hold 17% and 23% stakes in the project, respectively--will get a $13 billion credit to finance the development of oil reserves in the Sea of Okhotsk. Of that, $8 billion will be provided by ABN-AMRO. The deal envisages opening a six-month $10 million credit line to Russian companies immediately. The disbursement of money for longer-term programs, however, will depend on agreement being reached on the route for transporting the extracted oil. Foreign participants in the Sakhalin-1 project include Japan's Sodeko and Exxon of the U.S., which each hold a 30% equity stake. -- Natalia Gurushina INFLATION 2.5% IN JANUARY. Consumer price inflation reached 2.5% in January, the highest since March 1996 when it was 2.8%, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 February. Still, the figure compares favorably with the 4.1% inflation rate in January 1996 and the 17.8% of January 1995. The rise is likely to have been caused by seasonal factors such as traditional holiday bonuses, end-of-year payouts, and the government's attempts to repay wage and pensions arrears in November-December 1996. However, Deputy Economics Minister Vladimir Panskov said that the January increase in inflation stemmed from heightened inflationary expectations caused by political developments, primarily President Yeltsin's illness and the Duma's attempts to dismiss him. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA TROUBLE AT ARMENIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. Problems in the turbo-generator led to the shutdown of Armenia's only nuclear power plant for several hours on 4 February, according to AFP and ITAR-TASS. Faulty wiring was discovered but officials at the Metzamor plant stressed that there was no danger to workers or the environment. The plant resumed normal operations later the same day. -- Bruce Pannier U.S. AID TO ARMENIA. U.S. Ambassador to Armenia Peter Thomsen reiterated Washington's policy of providing aid to Armenia to support its democratic reform, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 February. Thomsen told journalists the U.S. will provide $95 million in aid to Armenia in 1997, including a $30 million credit to buy natural gas and $6 million to increase safety at the Metzamor nuclear power plant. He noted that the U.S. provided $150 million in aid to Armenia in 1996. -- Lowell Bezanis STATUS OF AZERBAIJAN'S ACADEMY OF SCIENCES TO CHANGE. President Haidar Aliev on 2 February declared his intention to subordinate Azerbaijan's Academy of Sciences to the office of the president, Turan reported. The move effectively overturns a 1992 law making the academy an independent, if partially state-funded, body. In an address to an enlarged session of the academy's presidium, Aliev also said he accepted the resignation of Eldar Salayev, the body's chairman since the early 1980s, and appointed Farmaz Maksudov to replace him. The same day Aliev raised the salaries of academy members by 50%. -- Lowell Bezanis UN OBSERVERS TAKEN HOSTAGE IN TAJIKISTAN. Four UN military observers and their translator were taken hostage on 4 February on a road 68 km from the Tajik capital Dushanbe, according to Western and Russian sources. The group, which includes two Swiss, one Austrian, one Ukrainian, and a Tajik interpreter, were stopped by a group loyal to renegade field commander Rezvon Sadirov. His group in late December held 23 people from the ceasefire monitoring committee, among them seven UN observers, and used the hostages to secure the release of two of their members from the Tajik opposition. However, a demand for Russian border guards to clear a corridor and allow more of their group passage from Afghanistan into Tajikistan was not met and appears to be the motive behind this latest action. Sadirov himself is rumored to be among those presently in Afghanistan. The UN is demanding the immediate release of the five captives. -- Bruce Pannier KAZAKSTANI PARLIAMENT OPPOSED TO RUSSIAN TESTING. The Kazakstani parliament on 4 February refused to ratify an agreement signed by Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin and his Russian counterpart Viktor Chernomyrdin last fall on Russian use of four weapons test centers in Kazakstan, RFE/RL and AFP reported. Deputy Sharip Omarov recalled that nuclear testing during the Soviet era had caused damage which has cost the Kazakstani government $115 million to alleviate since 1991. Omarov said Kazakstan had already become a non-nuclear state and the next step is to ban conventional weapons testing on the country's soil. The terms of the deal allow Russia to use the sites for a 10-year period at a cost of $26.5 million annually. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan EARTHQUAKE HITS TURKMENISTAN. Two earthquakes, 30 minutes apart, struck northeastern Iran and Turkmenistan on 4 February, Western sources reported. The quakes, which measured 5.6 and 6.1 on the Richter scale at their epicenters in Iran, caused extensive damage there, destroying 34 villages, but Turkmenistan is presently reporting no damage and no casualties. In Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital, the two quakes were measured at 3.5 and 4.5, which normally indicates little damage. In rural areas, however, most houses are made of clay and many small villages are in remote desert regions where conditions are impossible to assess immediately. Turkmenistan has lived in fear of earthquakes for some time. In 1948 an earthquake nearly leveled Ashgabat; among the thousands killed were the parents of current President Saparmurad Niyazov. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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