|Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. - Holbrook Jackson|
No. 26, Part I, 6 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 ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT. A remote- controlled bomb blast damaged two cars in the motorcade of Chechen Vice President-elect Vakha Arsanov as it passed through central Grozny late on 4 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. Arsanov was unhurt, although his bodyguards suffered minor injuries. Arbi Ruslanov, Arsanov's press spokesman, alleged the attack was "a carefully planned operation by the Russian secret services," designed to destabilize Chechnya by provoking conflict between supporters of Arsanov's running mate, President-elect Aslan Maskhadov, and Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, the outgoing acting president. -- Scott Parrish MOSCOW CRITICIZES CHECHEN EXPULSION OF OSCE MISSION HEAD. Implicitly criticizing the 4 February decision by Yandarbiev's government to expel Tim Guldimann, the head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said it was too soon to close the mission, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February. An anonymous senior Russian government official later said Moscow expects Chechen President-elect Maskhadov to reverse Yandarbiev's decision after his scheduled 12 February inauguration. Russian TV reported the same day that Maskhadov had invited Guldimann to attend the inauguration. Yandarbiev, meanwhile, stood by the expulsion in an interview with NTV, warning that Maskhadov would "put himself in a very awkward position" if he retracts it. Yandarbiev added that Guldimann would be in danger if he returns to Chechnya. Despite press speculation that he does not support the expulsion, Maskhadov has not yet publicly commented on it. -- Scott Parrish KULIKOV'S APPOINTMENT RECEIVES MIXED REACTION. The appointment of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov to the post of deputy prime minister in charge of economic crime has been slammed in the "democratic" press but welcomed by Communists and nationalists. Several newspapers derided Kulikov's promotion, questioning his record against crime and in Chechnya. Segodnya described Kulikov's elevation as a reward for his loyalty to Yeltsin rather than for his performance as interior minister, while Izvestiya claimed the new deputy prime minister had been a failure as commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and as head of the police. Appearing on Ekho Moskvy on 5 February, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, on the other hand, described Kulikov as a professional doing his best to fight organized crime. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky also praised the appointment and Kulikov's crime-fighting abilities, NTV reported. -- Penny Morvant and Laura Belin DUMA ACCUSES CHUBAIS OF BREAKING LAWS. The State Duma passed by a vote of 235 to 19, with 4 abstentions, a resolution accusing Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais of not declaring his full 1996 income and failing to pay his taxes on time, Russian media reported on 5 February. The resolution, prepared by the Security Committee, asked President Boris Yeltsin to require senior civil servants to release income declarations. The Duma also sent photocopies of Chubais's bank statement and other financial documents to the Procurator-General's Office. In January, Chubais paid about 517 million rubles ($95,000) in taxes on income he said he earned through lectures and consultations during the first half of 1996. The Duma rejected an appeal by Russia's Democratic Choice member Sergei Yushenkov who claimed that many Duma deputies are far wealthier than Chubais and called on parliamentarians to release their own income declarations, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin DUMA PASSES ANOTHER TROPHY ART LAW. By an overwhelming majority, the Duma passed on 5 February a law laying claim to artworks seized by Soviet troops in Germany at the end of World War II, international agencies reported. The new legislation stipulates that such works of art "are the property of the Russian Federation and belong to the federal state." It also stresses that the artworks are compensation for the massive losses sustained by Russia during the war. The law still has to be approved by the Federation Council and President Yeltsin. Russia and Germany have been disputing the ownership of so-called trophy art since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In July 1996, the Duma passed a similar law, but the Federation Council rejected it. Following a meeting with Yeltsin in Moscow last month, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced that both sides wanted to resolve the dispute by the end of this year. -- Jan Cleave RUSSIA REACTS POSITIVELY TO FRENCH NATO SUMMIT PROPOSAL. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 6 February that Moscow supports the reported proposal by French President Jacques Chirac to hold a five- way summit on European security and NATO expansion this April, Russian and Western agencies reported. Citing anonymous Western diplomatic sources, AFP reported the day before that Chirac, supported by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, had proposed that an April summit of Russia, France, Germany, Britain, and the U.S. hammer out a deal on Russian ties with NATO before the alliance issues membership invitations to prospective East European members at its scheduled July summit. The French proposal has received a cool response from American diplomats. -- Scott Parrish ALIENS GOING TO RUSSIA. Federal Migration Service head Tatyana Regent estimates that almost 1 million illegal immigrants have moved to Russia from beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February. Only 10,000, however, have applied for asylum, and significantly fewer are likely to receive it, she said. According to Regent, about 700,000 people emigrated to Russia from former Soviet countries in 1996, down from 1.1 million two years before. She attributed the decline to Russia's economic problems and the war in Chechnya. Reuters, however, quoted independent researchers as estimating that the real number of immigrants is at least 50% higher than the official statistics. -- Penny Morvant CHORNOBYL WORKERS' PROTESTS SPREAD. Former miners and soldiers who took part in the clean-up operation after the 1996 Chornobyl disaster are continuing a hunger strike in Tula Oblast, although the government has released funds to pay delayed pensions and disability benefits, ITAR- TASS reported on 5 February. The former "liquidators," who declared a "dry" hunger strike on 1 February after more than two weeks of protests, decided to accept liquids and medicine when the government ordered the payment of 40 billion rubles ($7.1 million) to clean-up workers, but they say they will continue to refuse food until all the money, including an adjustment for inflation, is paid. Meanwhile, on 4 February, dozens of "liquidators" in Sverdlovsk Oblast also went on hunger strike to demand the payment of about 28 billion rubles in overdue benefits. Sverdlovsk is home to about 4,000 victims of nuclear accidents, including Chornobyl. -- Penny Morvant WATER SYSTEM COLLAPSING. Half of Russia's population is forced to drink water that does not meet acceptable hygiene standards, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February, citing the Collegium of the Ministry of Natural Resources. The Collegium said Russian reservoirs and water purification systems are in critical condition, and the danger of dams breaking has increased. Of 30,000 water reservoirs, 12% have not been modernized for more than 50 years, while state subsidies to keep these systems in good condition are insufficient. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski GERMANY AGREES TO RESTRUCTURE RUSSIA'S DEBT. Russian Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits and his German counterpart Theo Waigel have signed an agreement on restructuring the DM 25 billion ($15.2 billion) debt of the former USSR for which Russia assumed responsibility in April 1993, ITAR- TASS and ORT reported on 5 February. Under the deal, the principal will be repaid over 25 years, following a six-year grace period. There will be no rescheduling of interest payments, and in 1997 Russia will pay Germany some $260 million. Germany is Russia's largest creditor among members of the Paris Club, accounting for 40% of these countries' loans to the former Soviet Union. -- Natalia Gurushina TAX SERVICE CRITICIZED. A report by the Main Control Department of the Presidential Administration (GKU) criticized the State Tax Service and accused its head Vitalii Artyukhov of failing to carry out his duties, Segodnya and Finansovye izvestiya reported on 5-6 February. The GKU said only 16% of taxpayers paid on time and in full, while 50% have tax arrears and 34% do not pay taxes. It added that in 1996, industrial companies' profits dropped 50% compared to 1995. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said that Russia has not achieved financial stabilization. Livshits said a major cause of the current financial crisis is "irrationally high" government expenditures. According to Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin, they accounted for 39% of Russia's GDP in 1996 and should be brought down to at least 25-30% for economic reform to progress. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA UPGRADES ITS MILITARY AIRCRAFT. The Tbilisi aircraft plant has begun production of new Su-39 low-flying assault jets, Georgian and Russian media reported on 5 February. The Su-39 is an upgraded version of the older Soviet Su-25 plane with, according to military experts, increased firepower. Georgian newspapers quoted the plant's general director as saying that the Georgian Defense Ministry has ordered 50 Su- 39s, which are due to be delivered over the next seven years. -- Emil Danielyan MINSK GROUP IMPASSE CONTINUES. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev and Denmark's representative in the OSCE Minsk Group, Susan Christiansen, held talks on resolving the impasse over which country will co-chair the stalled Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations, RFE/RL reported on 4 February. Christiansen proposed the U.S. be added as co-chairman, creating a leadership troika that would also include recently nominated France and permanent co-chairman Russia. Aliev rejected the proposal and said the OSCE, in appointing France, had disregarded Baku's concerns. Aliev would prefer to see the U.S. or Germany co-chair the group with Russia. -- Lowell Bezanis IMF, AZERBAIJAN SIGN MEMORANDUM. Representatives of the International Monetary Fund and the government of Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of understanding in Baku on 4 February, RFE/RL reported. Satisfied with Azerbaijan's macroeconomic stabilization program of the last two years, which brought inflation down to 6.8% in 1996, the IMF, in keeping with a decision reached last December, will offer Azerbaijan two loans totaling $219 million over the next three years. -- Lowell Bezanis CASPIAN OIL EXPORT PROBLEMS. Russia's pipeline concern Transneft has refused to pump Azerbaijani oil to the Black Sea in February and March, RFE/RL reported on 5 February. Transneft said it agreed with the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) and Azerbaijan's State oil concern SOCAR to transport oil from the Chirag and Gunesli offshore fields, but not from other Azerbaijani deposits. The present rumpus, which pits SOCAR and the AIOC against Transneft, disrupts plans to export an estimated 70,000 metric tons of oil in the next two months. -- Lowell Bezanis MORE UN WORKERS TAKEN HOSTAGE IN TAJIKISTAN . . . Three UN workers described as "local staff" and a Nigerian national accompanying them disappeared in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 6 February, Reuters reported. The four were working for the refugee agency UNHCR. Four members of the UN military observer team and their interpreter were captured by a band loyal to renegade field commander Rezvon Sadirov on 4 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 February 1997). They were allowed to contact UN offices in Dushanbe by radio and said they were not being mistreated but an Austrian member of the team was ill. Their captors are demanding safe passage for Sadirov and his group into Tajikistan from Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier . . . AS ARE RED CROSS WORKERS AND RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS. A Red Cross worker and interpreter on 5 February were captured by the same group which took UN military observers hostage the previous day near the town of Obigarm, according to Russian and Western media. The same day five Russian journalists were also taken by the group. Reports indicate the Red Cross employees were returning from the Tavil-Dara area were they had been engaged in humanitarian works. The Russian journalists were en route to meet with the outlaw band which holds the UN observers and now the journalists as well. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov is ordering his government to take whatever action necessary to secure the release of all the hostages. -- Bruce Pannier SALARIES HIKED IN TURKMENISTAN . . . In a television broadcast on 4 February, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov pledged to double the salaries of state employees and the military, Reuters reported the next day. Niyazov said the state had earmarked $92 million for this purpose and salaries will be raised effective 1 March. He said the increase is to be covered by fines imposed on Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan for overdue payments for Turkmen gas delivered from 1994 to 1996. -- Lowell Bezanis . . . AND ECONOMIC STATISTICS REPORTED. The Turkmen Press News Agency, citing the State Statistics Committee, published official economic figures for 1996 on 4 February. According to the BBC-monitored report, inflation last year was 100.1%. In 1996, 4.4 million metric tons of oil and 35.2 billion cubic meters of gas were extracted. Over 90% of industrial production came from state enterprises but some 66% of retail trade is reportedly outside state control. The agency said GDP exceeded 6.6 billion manats ($1.6 billion) last year. -- Lowell Bezanis [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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