|Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans. - John Lennon|
No. 34, Part I, 18 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 IZVESTIYA ACCUSES STROEV OF CORRUPTION. Izvestiya on 15 February charged that Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev is trying to use his influence to gain ownership rights to at least two valuable properties that may be privatized. Stroev has asked President Boris Yeltsin to hand over the "Polimer" factory that provides unique and essential defense products to a financial industrial group controlled by his associates. In 1995, this factory was included on a list of enterprises of national significance whose stock cannot be sold. Stroev wants that decision rescinded. Stroev has also asked the president to transfer control of 91% of the state-owned Tyumen Oil Company (TNK) to an "authoritative group of leaders" who manage Rosinvestneft. The paper compared Stroev's actions to former Presidential Security Service chief Aleksandr Korzhakov's December 1994 attempts to influence the country's oil export policies. -- Robert Orttung YELTSIN BACKS RODIONOV. President Yeltsin on 17 February dismissed rumors that he plans to sack Defense Minister Igor Rodionov as "absolutely unfounded," Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. The media have focused on differences of opinion between Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin over military reform and funding issues and speculated that the defense minister would be removed. Prior to a meeting with Rodionov, Yeltsin acknowledged that the two defense chiefs do not always agree, observing that "various points of view can exist but the president will decide finally which to choose." Yeltsin and Rodionov discussed military financing, combat readiness, and possible personnel changes in army command, Russian agencies reported. Meanwhile, Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin argued that the country's leadership does not have the political will to implement reform, NTV reported. He also criticized the Defense Council's reform proposals as "lacking in economic substance," according to ITAR-TASS. -- Penny Morvant DOES YELTSIN'S WIFE WANT HIM TO QUIT? President Yeltsin's wife has urged her husband to resign and devote more attention to his health, Komsomolskaya pravda reported on 17 February, adding fuel to the rumours that Yeltsin's condition is worse than his aides are willing to admit. The newspaper claimed that Yeltsin is withdrawing into his family, and becoming increasingly less accessible even to his immediate entourage. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii called the article "utter nonsense," and refuted the newspaper's assertion that he himself has not seen the president for weeks. Meanwhile, First Deputy State Duma Speaker Aleksander Shokhin, who is generally loyal to the president, said Yeltsin's 6 March address to the parliament will prove whether he is capable of ruling the country, NTV reported on 17 February. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski GOVERNOR LEBED REFUSES TO SIGN POWER SHARING AGREEMENT. Khakasiya Governor Aleksei Lebed, Aleksandr Lebed's younger brother, has refused to sign the draft power sharing agreement between Khakasiya and the Russian Federation prepared by his predecessor, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 February. Lebed said that he would study the experiences of other republics and regions that have signed similar agreements before preparing a new draft. Following his election on 22 December, Lebed ordered an audit of the previous administration's work in an effort to uncover any wrongdoing. -- Robert Orttung YANDARBIEV PUTS SCREWS ON MASKHADOV. Some 300 members of the armed presidential guard created by former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev staged a demonstration outside the Grozny mayor's office on 16 February to protest President Aslan Maskhadov's decision to combine the posts of president and prime minister, ITAR-TASS and Rabochaya tribuna reported. Yandarbiev's supporters demanded that field commander Ruslan Gilayev continue to hold the post of prime minister and that field commander Shamil Basaev be appointed defense minister. On 17 February, Central Electoral Commission Chairman Mumadi Saidayev announced that the second round parliament elections held in several districts on 15 February was valid, and that 30 more deputies have been elected. New elections will be held within two months in those districts where turnout was below 50%. -- Liz Fuller LATVIAN PARLIAMENT DELEGATION IN MOSCOW. Visiting Saeima Chairman Alfreds Cepanis on 17 February agreed with State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev that both countries should abandon the residual Cold War elements in their bilateral relations, BNS reported. The two sides agreed that the main outstanding problems between the two states--the Russian-speaking population of Latvia and the border issue--should be resolved through negotiations. Russian Ambassador to Riga Aleksandr Udaltsev noted that Cepanis's visit should be regarded as the first step toward resuming a political dialogue in advance of Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov's anticipated 27 February visit to Riga. Serov heads the Russian delegation of the Russian-Latvian intergovernmental commission. -- Saulius Girnius PLAN TO DISPOSE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS. Russia is moving ahead with plans to build a facility at Shchuche in Kurgan Oblast to dispose of its chemical weapons, Russian TV (RTR) reported on 17 February. Stanislav Petrov, the commander of the Russian radiation, chemical, and biological defense troops, said that the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission agreed on 8 February that the U.S. will pay for the construction of the plant, ITAR- TASS reported. Russia has some 40,000 metric tons of chemical munitions, mostly stored at sites in Udmurtiya and the Saratov, Bryansk, and Kurgan oblasts, which should be destroyed by 2005 under the 1993 Paris convention. The Kurgan facility is being opposed by local residents and politicians. A factory for the disposal of chemical weapons was built near the city of Chapaevsk 10 years ago, but local opposition prevented it from coming into operation. On 27 December, the State Duma passed a bill on funding the disposal of chemical weapons, but the Federation Council vetoed the measure on 23 January. -- Peter Rutland OFFICIAL SAYS NO EXECUTIONS SINCE AUGUST 1996. Presidential Clemency Commission Chairman Anatolii Pristavkin reaffirmed on 17 February that no executions have been carried out in Russia since August last year and urged the Duma to pass legislation confirming the de facto moratorium, international agencies reported. He added, however, that prisoners whose death penalties have been commuted are kept in "exceptionally rough and inhumane conditions" in two camps in northern Russia. The same day, Deputy Duma Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin also called for a moratorium on executions to allow "calm discussion" of the issue of abolishing capital punishment without fear that Russia could be expelled from the Council of Europe. Russia undertook to halt executions when it joined the Council last year, and it has been sharply criticized for failing to meet its obligations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 and 31 January 1997). Fifty-three people were executed in the first six months of 1996. -- Penny Morvant GOSKOMSTAT RELEASES WAGE, EMPLOYMENT DATA. The average monthly salary in Russia was 870,000 rubles ($155) in January, 10% higher than a year earlier after adjustment for inflation, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February, citing the State Statistics Committee. The January figure was 17% down on the previous month, as pay packets are generally higher in December because of end-of-year bonuses. Unemployment (estimated from household survey data) was 9.5% by late January, up from 9.3% the previous month. Wage arrears also continued to climb. As of 27 January, Russian workers were owed 48.60 trillion rubles in delayed wages,. up 3% from 47.15 trillion in late December; late payments from the budget accounted for 9.48 trillion of the arrears. -- Penny Morvant TEACHERS' PROTEST RENEWED. Renewing a national protest begun in mid- January, education workers in 86 of Russia's 89 regions staged strikes and demonstrations on 17 February to demand the payment of about 7 trillion rubles in overdue wages, NTV and ORT reported. Only teachers in Moscow, Samara, and the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug are receiving all their pay on time. The teachers sent an open letter to Yeltsin calling for the resignation of the government and threatening to disrupt examinations, RTR reported. Following a meeting between government officials and union representatives, Education Minister Vladimir Kinelev said teachers should address their demands to local authorities, since schools are financed from regional budgets, but he promised that the government would allocate funds to the worst-hit areas. Strikes, mostly over wage arrears, occurred at 5,716 enterprises and organizations in January--a 170% increase on figures for January 1996, Izvestiya reported. -- Penny Morvant TAX POLICE INTENDS TO CREATE RAPID RESPONSE UNITS. The Russian tax police has announced that it will set up special rapid response groups to carry out inspections of banks and financial-industrial groups (FPGs), ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. A spokesman for the tax police said that the groups will check accounts of both mother-companies and their branches. He noted that it is the existence of multi-level organizational and functional networks that allows banks and FPGs to conceal large amounts of their taxable profits. As of 1 January 1997, tax arrears to the federal budget totaled 68.1 trillion rubles (1.8% of GDP), 130% up over the beginning of 1996, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 15 February. -- Natalia Gurushina DUMA OPPOSES PRIVATIZATION OF EES ROSSII. The Duma has passed a bill that would prohibit the privatization of the energy giant EES Rossii (United Power Grid of Russia), Kommersant-Daily reported on 14 February. The bill was adopted one month after a consortium of Russian commercial banks led by Natsionalnyi rezervnyi bank won an investment auction for a 8.5% equity stake in EES Rossii. Duma deputies expect the law will help prevent the sale of the remaining 51% federal equity stake. The government, however, argues that such a law would contravene the constitution, according to which the management of federal property falls under the jurisdiction of the government. The parliamentarians say that the management of federal property is a separate issue from the ownership of such property, which they argue should be governed by federal laws. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA TAJIK HOSTAGE CRISIS OVER, WITH APOLOGIES. The two-week Tajik hostage crisis ended without further incident on 17 February following high- level talks between Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, representatives of hostage taker Bahrom Sadirov, and a Russian embassy official, Western and Russian media reported. No details on the agreements have been released. According to one Russian media report, Sadirov hopes to participate in the peace talks between the government and the opposition as a so-called third force. Before the drama ended, Sadirov's representative apologized to "Russia and the world community" for the hostage taking, explaining that he had no other means of bringing his fellow fighters back from Afghanistan. None of the hostages were hurt, contrary to earlier reports that one of them had been killed. -- Lowell Bezanis MORE ON RUSSIAN ARMS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA. Russian Ambassador to Yerevan Andrei Urnov told Noyan Tapan on 17 February that the Russian arms being sent to Armenia are designated for use at Russia's military bases there in accordance with existing bilateral military agreements. Urnov said he does not know of any illegal arms transfers. On 14 February, Russian Minister for Relations with the CIS Aman Tuleev claimed that Armenia has illegally received some 270 billion rubles ($50 million) worth of arms from Russia (not 270 million rubles as erroneously reported by Noyan Tapan on 15 February and OMRI Daily Digest on 17 February). The Azerbaijani Embassy in Moscow issued a statement expressing concern at "the continuing practice of illegal arms shipments to Armenia" which it said "undermines efforts to settle the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan by peaceful means," according to a 16 February Interfax report monitored by the BBC. -- Liz Fuller KAZAKSTANI UPDATE. Kazakstani Transport and Communications Minister Yurii Lavrinenko signed an agreement on expanding economic cooperation with his Iranian counterpart during a visit to Tehran, according to a 17 February Iranian TV report monitored by the BBC. Lavrinenko described Iran as the "most important and most strategic country in the region." In other news, Kazakstani authorities are hunting down dozens of former prisoners amnestied in 1996 and imprisoning them without trial, AFP reported on 17 February. Officials claim some of the 19,000 prisoners released on 30 January 1996 were not meant to be freed. Jumabek Busurmanov, head of the governmental Human Rights Committee, has criticized the Western groups that protested the illegal, retroactive nature of the undertaking. Meanwhile, Russia remains in arrears with Kazakstan to the tune of $115 million over the use of the Baikanour space station, RFE/RL reported on 18 February. -- Lowell Bezanis and Merhat Sharipzhan MOBIL, MONUMENT IN TURKMENISTAN. Mobil Exploration and Producing Turkmenistan, Inc. have joined the UK-based Monument Oil and Gas in a production-sharing agreement with the government of Turkmenistan to explore and develop oil and gas opportunities in the Nebit-Dag license area, RFE/RL reported on 17 February. The two companies also reached an agreement with Ashgabat for the exclusive right to negotiate a production-sharing agreement covering most of the country's onshore oil- producing region, which is some 18,000 sq. km in size. The first deal applies to a 2,000 sq. km area. -- Lowell Bezanis [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 email@example.com 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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