|We are all apt to believe what the world believes about us. - George Eliot|
No. 31, Part I, 13 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 KREMLIN BLASTS NATO FOR "ANTI-MOSCOW" POLICY. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 12 February accused NATO of an "anti-Moscow" secret agenda, arguing that "the West as a whole, and the leadership of NATO in particular, is opposed to any form of political or military integration" between the former republics of the Soviet Union, Reuters reported. Yastrzhembskii said that there are "no grounds" for saying that Russia and NATO have drawn closer on certain issues. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana is currently on a tour of Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In Yerevan, Solana expressed surprise at Yastrzhembskii's comments, RFE/RL reported. -- Robert Orttung SURGEON: YELTSIN NEEDS ANOTHER TWO WEEKS TO RECOVER. President Boris Yeltsin needs at least 10 to 14 more days to recover from pneumonia, surgeon Renat Akchurin told ITAR-TASS on 12 February. Akchurin said that while the pneumonia has not affected Yeltsin's heart, the president is somewhat weakened, needs to gain weight, and his recuperation should not be rushed. In the meantime, the Railway Ministry was instructed to prepare a special carriage fitted with medical equipment for Yeltsin's trip to a meeting with Bill Clinton in Helsinki in March, Argumenty i fakty reported on 11 February. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski FEDERATION COUNCIL PASSES 1997 BUDGET. The Federation Council passed on 12 February the 1997 budget by 120 votes to 25 with nine abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. After the Council meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin noted that the budget will enable the government to control the macroeconomic situation in the country. Responding to critics of the budget's revenue target, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits noted that the government intends to intensify the fight against tax dodgers and cut the number of available tax benefits. The budget now goes to President Boris Yeltsin for signing. -- Natalia Gurushina DUMA APPEALS TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT ON FEDERATION COUNCIL FORMATION. The State Duma has asked the Constitutional Court to examine the legality of the law on the formation of the Federation Council, ITAR- TASS reported on 12 February. The law stipulates that the heads of the executive and legislative branches in each of Russia's 89 regions automatically become members of the upper house of parliament. Duma deputy Yelena Mizulina (Yabloko) argued that the current law violates the principle of separation of powers by having governors take part in passing legislation, and also allows the regional elite to "interfere" in passing federal laws. Asked why the Duma was only now disputing a law passed in December 1995, Mizulina said that the Duma had wanted to make sure gubernatorial elections would be held by the end of 1996, as stipulated by the law on the Council's formation. -- Laura Belin DUMA ROUNDUP. Also on 12 February, the Duma passed a resolution asking the Interior Ministry to determine whether state officials are citizens of another country and to announce the results of the investigation by 1 April, Russian Public TV (ORT) and ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution was inspired by media reports last November that Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii held dual citizenship with Israel (he eventually dropped his Israeli citizenship). The Duma also ordered the Audit Chamber to investigate the finances of state-run Russian TV (RTR). The audit will examine the network's agreements with commercial organizations and how RTR uses federal funds and advertising profits. The Duma also passed in the second reading a law prohibiting public actions and the distribution of written materials promoting "the propaganda of fascism." -- Laura Belin DUMA PASSES DRUG LAW. The Duma on 12 February passed in the third and final reading a draft law on narcotic and psychotropic substances, ITAR- TASS reported. The bill, which is aimed at combating drug trafficking, provides for a state monopoly on the cultivation, production, development, processing, and transportation of drugs in Russia. All drug operations will be monitored by a government commission on drug abuse and a permanent drug monitoring committee within the Health Ministry. -- Penny Morvant FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS PENSION INCREASE. The parliament's upper house rejected on 12 February a bill raising the minimum pension by 10% to 76,530 rubles a month, ITAR-TASS reported. The deputies voted down the bill by 55 to 47 with 11 abstentions, although the Federation Council's social policy committee had recommended that it be adopted. The draft was earlier vetoed by President Yeltsin on the grounds that the country could not afford it (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 January 1997). It will now be reviewed by committees in both houses of the Federal Assembly. Also on 12 February, the Federation Council at last approved the constitutional law on the Russian Federation Human Rights Commissioner. The bill has been more than three years in the making (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 December 1996).-- Penny Morvant BEAR HUNT STORY CAUSES TROUBLE FOR OGONEK. Officials in Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's office persuaded a Moscow bank to freeze the credit of the popular weekly magazine Ogonek after it reported on Chernomyrdin's lavish bear-hunting expedition in Yaroslavl last month, the Christian Science Monitor reported on 11 February. In preparation for the prime minister's visit, public funds were used to build a new road in the forest near the lair of a mother bear and two cubs. Ogonek Editor Lev Gushin immediately called the matter to the attention of Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii, whose Logovaz empire is the major financial backer of Ogonek. He cleared up the problem by phoning the bank. The newspaper Novaya gazeta broke the bear hunt story the same week, but it has a relatively small circulation concentrated in Moscow, whereas Ogonek is sold nationwide. -- Laura Belin BEREZOVSKII SUING FORBES. Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii filed a libel lawsuit in the High Court in London against the U.S. magazine Forbes, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 12 February. At issue is a recent Forbes article--published anonymously--entitled "Godfather of the Kremlin?" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 December 1996). It suggested that Berezovskii built his Logovaz empire through criminal means and was a "leading suspect" in the March 1995 assassination of journalist Vladislav Listev. Nikolai Glushkov, deputy director of Aeroflot and a co-founder of Logovaz, is a co-plaintiff in the case. It is easier to win a libel suit in Great Britain than in the U.S. -- Laura Belin LIVSHITS RESPONDS TO RODIONOV ATTACK ON UNDERFUNDING. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said that the 1996 budget called for spending more than 21 trillion rubles on the military and that his ministry paid out more than 28 trillion. He claimed that he hoped to provide an additional 3.2 trillion as well. His remarks came in response to Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's 6 February charge that military underfinancing is causing Russia to lose control of its nuclear missiles (see OMRI Daily Digest 7 February 1997). Livshits argued that the difficulties of collecting taxes has limited the amount of money that can be disbursed. -- Robert Orttung U.S. WARNS RUSSIA ON IRANIAN MISSILE TRANSFER. During Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's recent visit to Washington, the U.S. issued a diplomatic warning to Russia because it had allegedly. transferred SS-4 missile technology to Iran that could threaten U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, the Los Angeles Times and news agencies reported on 12 February. The transfer involved detailed instructions on how to build a delivery system for the weapon. The SS-4 has a range of 1,250 miles, three times more than the missiles Iran currently possesses. -- Robert Orttung FOREIGN CURRENCY SALES IN 1996. More than $51 billion in foreign currency were sold in Russia in 1996, a sum roughly equal to 1996 federal budget revenue, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February citing sources in the Central Bank. Sales reached a peak in December, topping $6 billion. At the end of last year, the Duma approved a draft law introducing a 0.5% tax on the purchase of foreign currency, but the bill was rejected by the Federation Council and is now being reviewed by a conciliation commission. -- Penny Morvant CHERNOMYRDIN SUGGESTS NEW APPROACH TO TAX COLLECTION. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the government plans to introduce a new approach to tax collection and the reduction of non-payments in the economy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. It involves (1) using the Treasury to implement the federal budget and (2) the transfer of budgetary accounts (and the accounts of non-budgetary funds) to branches of the Central Bank (TsB) or Sberbank (Savings Bank). Companies will have to make their tax payments to those accounts. According to the TsB, the total volume of non-payments in Russia has reached 893 trillion rubles ($160 billion), Delovoi mir reported on 12 February. -- Natalia Gurushina CIS ENERGY DEBT TO RUSSIA REDUCED. The debt owed by the CIS and Baltic states for Russian supplies of fuel and energy now amounts to 7.67 trillion rubles ($1.36 billion at the current exchange rate), down from some 16 trillion rubles at the beginning of 1996, Segodnya reported on 12 February. Ukraine remains Russia's largest debtor, owing 2.6 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, Russia's giant natural gas company Gazprom warned its clients in Belarus that it will cut gas deliveries by 30% unless Belarus adheres to the debt repayment schedule agreed to at the end of 1996. Belarus owes Gazprom some $280 million. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA SOLANA MEETS WITH ARMENIAN LEADERSHIP. Armenian President Levon Ter- Petrossyan told visiting NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana on 12 February that maintaining "normal relationships" with neighboring countries is the most reliable guarantee of Armenia's national security, ITAR-TASS reported. Both Ter-Petrossyan and Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan assured Solana that cooperation with NATO under the Partnership for Peace Program is important for Armenia. Acknowledging "some progress" in his country's relations with NATO, Sarkisyan said that Armenia will get more actively involved in the program in 1997, adding that the Armenian armed forces may take part in military exercises. Sarkisyan added that Armenia is pursuing a "balanced policy" between the CIS collective security treaty and the Partnership for Peace program. Earlier, during his visit to Georgia, Solana argued that a European security system would be incomplete without the Transcaucasian states. -- Emil Danielyan RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS OUST TURKISH VESSELS FROM GEORGIAN WATERS. Russian border guards patrolling Georgia's territorial waters on 11 February spotted and ousted 16 Turkish vessels engaged in illegal fishing, Russian media reported. A spokesman for the Russian Federal Border Service claimed that the Turkish boats ignored orders to stop and one of them rammed a Russian boat as the latter tried to approach it. In response, the border guards "had to open fire" on the Turkish vessels. No casualties were reported. Meanwhile, Turkey has informed the Russian border officials that all of the poachers have been arrested. -- Emil Danielyan NIYAZOV SACKS SOLTANOV. . . Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov appointed Akmurad Mulkamanov to the post of first deputy defense minister and chief of the Armed Forces General Staff on 12 February, RFE/RL reported the same day. Mulkamanov, who earlier headed an unnamed body that coordinated the country's national security agencies, replaced Annamurad Soltanov in both positions. The same day, Niyazov issued a decree effectively abolishing what was described as the government Press Committee and created a state-run publishing house called Turkmenpishit that will be subordinated to the cabinet. No explanation for the changes was given. -- Lowell Bezanis . . . AND HEADS FOR TEHRAN. Also on 12 February, Niyazov arrived in Tehran for two days of official talks focusing on regional problems, specifically Afghanistan and Tajikistan, as well as enhancing cooperation in several areas, notably in the transport, oil, and gas sectors as well as in trade, RFE/RL reported the same day. Over the past six years, Niyazov has visited Tehran some 16 times; 116 bilateral agreements have been reached since 1992 and bilateral trade stands at an estimated $100 million, according to AFP. Turkmen sources note that Iran has invested $250 million in Turkmenistan. -- Lowell Bezanis HOSTAGE EXCHANGE DELAYED IN TAJIKISTAN. The scheduled exchange of hostages held by the Bahrom and Rezvon Sadirov for members of the brothers' gang was delayed for technical reasons on 12 February, according to international media. The 40 members of the Sadirov gang were picked up in Afghanistan and flown by helicopter to the Kulyab area of southern Tajikistan, but the helicopters which were to take them to the exchange site were unable to leave. The Sadirovs have extended the deadline after which they had threatened to start executing their 14 hostages, who include UN workers, Russian journalists, and the Tajik security minister. As a sign of their good faith, they plan to release the five Russian journalists they hold and one of the UN observers. They also say that if there are more delays, they will ask that an additional 95 members of their gang be brought from Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier DENUNCIATION, DOUBT IN TAJIK HOSTAGE CRISIS. The hostage crisis in Tajikistan has prompted Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri to draft a joint statement condemning terrorism in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. The current crisis was threatening to derail the peace process in Tajikistan. The commander of the Russian border guards in Tajikistan, Lt.-Gen. Pavel Tarasenko, absolutely ruled out creating a corridor to allow more of the Sadirov gang into Tajikistan--the key demand of the hostage takers. They were brought by helicopter instead. Russian Minister for the CIS Aman Tuleev, who is in Tajikistan on a previously scheduled visit, commented: "A civilized exchange is beginning. The bandits come here (to Tajikistan)--some hostages are released. The bandits are brought to the mountains--more hostages are released." -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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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