|The fool wonders, the wise man asks. - Benjamin Disraeli|
No. 27, Part I, 7 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 RODIONOV: RUSSIA IS LOSING CONTROL OF NUCLEAR FORCES. In a sharp plea for a coherent military reform policy and increased defense spending, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov lamented the "horrifying state" of the Russian armed forces at a 6 February news conference, Russian and Western agencies reported. Rodionov said that as a result of insufficient funding, "no one can guarantee the reliability" of the Russian nuclear command-and-control system. If the current decay continues, he added, "Russia might soon reach the threshold beyond which its missiles and nuclear systems cannot be controlled." Complaining about chronic underfunding, an increasing officer suicide rate, and bloated and duplicative paramilitaries like the Border Guards and Interior Troops which are outside the control of the Defense Ministry, Rodionov argued military reform was making no progress because it "lacks consistency, a general concept, and political willpower." -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN SEEKS TO REASSURE PENSIONERS. In his first televised remarks of 1997, President Boris Yeltsin vowed that the government would never deprive pensioners who also work of their retirement benefits. During a meeting with Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev at the Kremlin on 6 February, Yeltsin sharply criticized Pension Fund head Vasilii Barchuk for "dropping a clanger, [saying] that pensions for working pensioners will be abolished." Yeltsin said no such measure was under consideration and promised to protect working pensioners' interests, NTV reported. Barchuk triggered a national outcry when he said in a television interview last week that the government had discussed proposals to raise the minimum pension age and abolish or reduce payments to Russia's 7 million working pensioners. Both the press and the opposition have slammed the idea of canceling such benefits, and government officials have been scrambling to reassure pensioners with jobs that they will not lose out, even if their pensions are adjusted. -- Penny Morvant STROEV ON MEETING WITH YELT-SIN. Speaking to journalists after his 25- minute meeting with Yeltsin, Stroev commented that the president appeared "energetic" and able to work, although "signs of the flu" are still visible, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 6 February. He said he and Yeltsin had not discussed attempts by the opposition to remove the president because of his poor health, but he did not specify whether the subject of his own suggestions on amending the constitution had been raised (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 January 1997). Stroev also predicted that the upper house will approve the 1997 budget at its 12 February session, albeit "with great difficulty," Russian TV (RTR) reported. -- Laura Belin CHERNOMYRDIN IN WASHINGTON. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore opened the eighth session of the bilateral economic cooperation commission, which they co-chair, in Washington on 6 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. Chernomyrdin earlier met with House speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, to whom he re-emphasized Moscow's opposition to NATO expansion, urging, "don't expand NATO now." According to ITAR- TASS, Chernomyrdin added that Russia could accept expansion if Moscow were admitted to the NATO council as its 17th full member and the alliance transformed itself into a "political organization." Aside from commission sessions, Chernomyrdin will also discuss the timing and location of a planned U.S.-Russia summit, and may also face questions about Russian chemical weapons production, which have arisen as the U.S. Senate considers ratifying the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention. -- Scott Parrish CHERNOMYRDIN DISCUSSES OFFICIALS' PAY. Responding to reports that the salaries of federal officials will soon be raised substantially, Chernomyrdin ruled out any increase until the debt to pensioners and workers in state-funded organizations has been reduced, Izvestiya reported on 7 February. On 5 February the paper said a presidential decree had been drafted that would raise the salaries of 31,000 high- ranking officials by 60%-80% at an annual cost of about 585 billion rubles ($104 million). It quoted proponents of the increase as saying the 900,000 rubles the average senior civil servant received in 1996 was far lower than wages in business and that many highly qualified officials were leaving as a result. Chernomyrdin also expressed sympathy for the idea of raising salaries but added that the current arrears in wages and pensions mean there is "no moral right" to take such a step. The issue will be reconsidered in two to three months. -- Penny Morvant U.S. PROTESTS THE PLANNED RUSSIAN REACTOR SALE TO INDIA. Despite American protests, Moscow plans to sell India two nuclear power reactors, The New York Times reported on 6 February. Washington argues that the sale violates a 1992 agreement by the nuclear suppliers group, which Russia signed, not to sell nuclear technologies to non-declared nuclear weapons states which have not accepted international inspection of all their nuclear facilities. Although India is widely believed to have a nuclear weapons capability, having conducted a nuclear test in 1974, it is not a declared nuclear power, and has not signed the 1968 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Russian Deputy Minister of Atomic Energy Yevgenii Reshetnikov said that since Moscow and New Dehli had originally agreed on the sale in 1987, it was not prohibited by the nuclear suppliers agreement, which exempts deals concluded before 1992. He also pledged that the reactors would be placed under international monitoring, precluding military use. -- Scott Parrish URALS GOVERNORS DENOUNCE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Following Primorskii Krai Governor Evgenii Nazdratenko's open letter blasting Economics Minister Evgenii Yasin published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 4 February, Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel and other Urals region governors have accused President Boris Yeltsin and his government of not solving the regions' problems, not fulfilling promises made during the presidential campaign, and not carrying out the government's own economic development program. The regional leaders are particularly concerned that government policies channel money away from investment in production to short-term state securities, Kommersant-Daily reported on 6 February. The governors demanded that the government change its policies by 20 February. The newspaper described the action as a "rebellion" by the regions against the center. It claimed that the governors are basically calling for a return to policies in which the economy essentially existed on the state's ability to print more money. -- Robert Orttung JOURNALISTS DENOUNCE "WAR OF COMPROMISING MATERIALS." Leaders of the Union of Journalists adopted a resolution warning the media not to allow "unscrupulous rivals in an ever more ruthless struggle for power" to manipulate journalists through the so-called "war of compromising materials." The resolution, published in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 7 February, said the media should inform the public about abuses of power by state officials, but claimed that recent publications of scandalous materials had little to do with investigative journalism. Since last summer, Russian newspapers have published numerous documents and transcripts aimed at tarnishing the reputation of controversial political figures. The main targets have been Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, and former Presidential Security Service head Aleksandr Korzhakov. -- Laura Belin DUMA PASSES LAW ON FREE ECONOMIC ZONES. The State Duma passed a law on free economic zones (SEZs) in Russia on its second reading, Kommersant- Daily reported on 6 February. The law allows the creation of six types of SEZs, as opposed to only two types mentioned in the first draft adopted by the Duma in June 1996. They include production and trade customs zones, special economic zones within regional borders, zones for technological research and development, zones for international provision of services, off-shore banking centers, and tourist and recreational zones. The law also introduces tax benefits for companies and firms operating in SEZs. Of 19 SEZs created in Russia so far, only the "Yantar" zone in Kaliningrad Oblast has begun operations. -- Natalia Gurushina GOVERNMENT TO CONTINUE REGULATION OF NATURAL MONOPOLIES. The government has issued a decree under which it will continue to limit increases in electricity rates, rail transport costs, and oil transport fees, tying them to the rate of wholesale price inflation in industry, ITAR-TASS and Radio Mayak reported on 6 February. A special working group will monitor the activities of natural monopolies. Speaking at a government meeting, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin supported Gazprom's suggestion to cut gas prices by 15% for consumers who pay their bills on time. Deputy Economics Minister Sergei Vasilev, however, expressed concern about excessive government subsidies of residential rates for gas, heat, and electricity. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA TRIAL ON POST-ELECTION UNREST BEGINS IN ARMENIA. The trial of five men who took part in mass protests following the disputed 22 September presidential election has begun in Yerevan, Armenian and international media reported on 6 February. The five are charged with inciting mass disorders and attempting to seize the parliament building. Seven others are awaiting a separate trial on the same charges. The protests broke out and turned violent after the opposition accused the authorities of falsifying the vote. Several international election observer groups questioned the official results that secured a second five-year term for incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. Key opposition figures, including Vazgen Manukyan, the leader of the National Democratic Union and defeated presidential candidate, attended the trial. No opposition leaders are on trial, and all the defendants are rank-and-file opposition activists. Earlier, Manukyan said that he is ready to take "responsibility, but not guilt" for the post-election unrest. -- Emil Danielyan SHEVARDNADZE: EU'S EASTWARD EXPANSION MORE PREFERABLE FOR GEORGIA. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said that the European Union's eastward expansion is "much more important for Georgia and, maybe, for the other Transcaucasian states" than NATO's enlargement, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 February. Commenting on NATO's possible enlargement, Shevardnadze said that the "situation should not be dramatized" as any country is free to decide its strategic priorities. Shevardnadze denied that the upcoming visit to Georgia by NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is aimed at "pushing Georgia into NATO." -- Emil Danielyan STRIKES AND THREATS IN KAZAKSTAN. With more than 250 miners already on strike in northern Kazakstan because of unpaid wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 February that 1,500 teachers in the Semipalatinsk region also carried out their threat to strike. The teachers are demanding payment in full of 400 million tenge (about $5.3 million) in wage arrears. Unpaid wages and pensions in Kazakstan are now approaching the $1 billion mark, causing significant social tension. According to Reuters, on 6 February a bomb hoax nearly forced the evacuation of the northerneastern town of Pavlodar. The fake bomb, attached to a 50-ton chorine container, had a note attached, which read: "Pay me my salary!" -- Bruce Pannier SOME HOSTAGES RELEASED . . . Two Red Cross workers captured by supporters of renegade field commander Rezvon Sadirov on 5 February near the town of Obigarm were freed on 7 February, Western media reported. The two were among 16 taken hostage by Saidirov's men in a 48-hour period. Sadirov's brother Bahrom said the Red Cross workers were only siezed in order to render medical aid to an Austrian UN military observer, who was abducted along with four colleauges on 4 February. One of the five Russian journalists also taken hostage by the group, Galina Gridneva of ITAR-TASS, was allowed to phone the agency's headquarters in Moscow. She said the group was in no danger. Her abductors claim the journalists are being held to cover negotiations with the government team sent to the area by President Imomali Rakhmonov. The group is demanding a corridor be created to permit Sadirov to return from Afghanistan. They also said they had planted 100 mines in Dushanbe and would explode them if their demands were not met. -- Bruce Pannier . . . BUT RED CROSS PULLS OUT OF TAJIKISTAN. The Red Cross in Tajikistan announced on 6 February it was removing the bulk of its personnel to neighboring Uzbekistan and had sent local staff home, according to RFE/RL and AFP. The Red Cross described the move, which came in response to the abduction of two of its workers, as "temporary." In a related story, the four UNHCR workers who were reported missing on 6 February are indeed captives of the same group which took the Red Cross workers hostage. Though a government negotiating team has been sent to the area, officials in Dushanbe call the kidnappers' demand for the safe passage of the outlaw group into Tajikistan from Afghanistan "unrealistic" and say "it would set an undesirable precedent." -- Bruce Pannier RAPHAEL IN TASHKENT. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs Robin Raphael held talks with Uzbek President Islam Karimov and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Komilov, Russian media reported on 6 February. During a press conference Raphael was quoted as saying Washington and Tashkent have similar views on Afghanistan and both sides continue to support Uzbekistan's proposal to impose an embargo on arms exports on the war-torn country. Raphael also reportedly discussed the impact of the civil war in Afghanistan on Tajikistan. -- 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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