History is made out of the failures and heroism of each insignificant moment. - Franz Kafka

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:

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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
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