|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
No. 35, Part I, 19 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 ======================================================================== In the 21 February issue of OMRI's journal, TRANSITION: DISSIDENTS -- THEN AND NOW - Reshaping Dissident Ideals for Post-Communist Times - How Rude pravo 'Helped' Get Charter 77 off the Ground - In Poland, A Long-Standing Tradition of Resistance PLUS... - CENTRAL ASIA: The Gordian Knot of Energy - BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Janusz Bugajski on Stabilizing Partition with SFOR - VIEWPOINT: Vladimir Shlapentokh on Creating 'The Russian Dream' After Chechnya For subscription information about OMRI's new monthly, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org ======================================================================== RUSSIA JOURNALIST PUNISHED AFTER REPORT ON YELTSIN WIFE. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii not only denied the report that President Boris Yeltsin's wife Naina asked him to step down for health reasons but also revoked the accreditation of Komsomolskaya pravda's journalist Aleksandr Gamov, whose report gained wide publicity throughout Russia, AFP reported on 18 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 February 1997). Gamov admitted that he was simply spreading rumors. Other members of the Russian media expressed surprise at the drastic measures taken against him. Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev said Yeltsin's postponement of his annual address to the Federation Assembly has violated the constitution and complicated parliamentary and governmental work, NTV reported on 18 February. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski KINKEL VISITS MOSCOW . . . German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel met Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 18 February, agencies reported. The two sides concurred that Russia and NATO should sign an agreement before the NATO Madrid summit in July, at which the decision to accept new members is expected to be made. However, Russia is insisting on signing a legally binding treaty with NATO, which the latter resists. Reuters reported that Kinkel will not be given the opportunity to meet President Yeltsin during his two-day visit. Yeltsin did meet Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on 18 February, however. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreev said recent Polish reports of a covert Russian anti-NATO campaign were "absolutely groundless." -- Peter Rutland . . . ALBRIGHT IN BRUSSELS. U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told NATO's North Atlantic Council in Brussels on 18 February that an accelerated timetable should see accession agreements signed with new NATO members by December of this year. Albright also announced several new concessions to Russia, such as a willingness to set country by country limits within the 1990 CFE treaty and a joint Russian-U.S. peacekeeping brigade. The day before, when Albright was in Germany, Kinkel affirmed German support for the French proposal for an April five-power summit with Russia, Britain, and the U.S. to seek agreement with Russia about NATO expansion. The U.S. is opposed to such a summit. -- Peter Rutland U.S. TO INVESTIGATE COMPUTER SALE. The U.S. Commerce Department is investigating the sale to Russia of supercomputers to be used for simulating nuclear tests, AFP and the Wall Street Journal reported on 19 February. Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov announced the purchase of four supercomputers on 13 January. A Silicon Graphics spokesman confirmed that his company sold the machines but said the firm thought they were going to a pollution monitoring laboratory and not to nuclear warhead design institutes. Meanwhile, Deputy Atomic Energy Minister Yevgenii Reshetnikov confirmed on 18 February that Russia will sell a nuclear reactor to Cuba, and said that the U.S. is only objecting because it wants to keep Russia out of the international market for nuclear power stations. He also said that the U.S. firm Westinghouse had been invited to join the project - something which U.S. law would not allow. -- Peter Rutland ILYUKHIN PUSHES YELTSIN TO FIRE BEREZOVSKII. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin has redoubled his efforts to pressure President Boris Yeltsin into firing Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Ilyukhin wants Berezovskii removed on the grounds that he lied about his Israeli citizenship, lacks professional experience in handling security matters, and continues to engage in business activities while performing his state duties, Komsomolskaya pravda reported 19 February. NTV seemed to support the anti-Berezovskii effort by broadcasting a critical report on him, including comments from hardline Russian nationalist leader Aleksandr Sterligov noting that Berezovskii's position in the administration helps him attract more support for his political activities. -- Robert Orttung IS A MILITARY COUP IN PREPARATION? Col. Viktor Baranets, deputy press spokesman for the Defense Ministry, is publishing his 2,000 page memoirs on goings-on at the ministry, Komsomolskaya pravda reported on 18 February. Last week, the tabloid Sovershenno sekretno published excerpts from the diaries, in which Baranets discussed ways to assassinate President Yeltsin. Baranets, who plans to leave the army, was demoted from his position as chief press spokesman in the wake of the controversy over the abortive firing of Ground Forces Commander Vladimir Semenov (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 December 1996). When asked whether a coup was likely in Russia, Baranets commented: "I have had occasion to study the history of military coups in various countries of the world, and have analyzed our generals from this point of view. My conclusion is that the likelihood of a 'coup from the top' is extremely small in Russia today." -- Peter Rutland YELTSIN CONFIRMS MANPOWER CUTS IN ARMED FORCES. President Yeltsin on 18 February ordered Defense Minister Igor Rodionov to reduce the size of the armed forces by 200,000 men by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported. The establishment strength of the armed forces is currently 1.7 million. Yeltsin also ordered the government to set aside funds to carry out the force reduction and provide social benefits to soldiers facing unemployment. Rodionov estimated that the cuts would cost about 10 trillion rubles. The reduction was first announced at a joint press conference given by Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin on 7 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 February 1996). -- Penny Morvant CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES AGAINST GOVERNMENT ON ALCOHOL LICENSES. In a sharp blow to the budget and a victory for business, the Constitutional Court on 18 February found unconstitutional a government edict of 28 February 1995 requiring firms to purchase licenses to produce, store, or sell alcohol on the wholesale market, Kommersant-Daily reported. The court said it is the prerogative of the parliament to pass tax legislation. The case was brought by the legislatures of Dagestan, Stavropol Krai, and Tula Oblast. Dagestan argued that the edict further hampered the republic's wine producers, who, it claims, have already suffered as a result of other federal policies. In order to minimize its impact on the budget, the ruling will not come into effect for six months. The court also instructed the Federal Assembly to consider legislation on license fees. It is far from certain, however, that the parliament will pass the required law before the six-month grace period is up. -- Penny Morvant GAZPROM TRIES TO BLOCK SHARE TRADING. Gazprom chairman Rem Vyakhirev has called for the closure of the Cayman Islands-based Regent Gaz Investment Company, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 18 February. The Regent company is offering international investors a fund backed by $200 million worth of Gazprom shares, which are being bought by a Russian subsidiary, Rastri. Gazprom shares cannot be sold to foreigners without Gazprom's permission, but they are traded on the Russian domestic market. Last October, Gazprom made $429 million worth of shares available to foreigners last October, through the issue of American Depositary Shares, and they trade at four times the Russian domestic share price. -- Peter Rutland RUSSIAN OFFICIALS ON FIGHTING TAX EVASION. Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Kulikov said that although the government has no control over flows of financial resources, no emergency measures will be introduced to fight tax evasion, ITAR-TASS, NTV and Segodnya reported on 18-19 February. Kulikov said he will concentrate on coordinating the work of the tax police, the tax service, and the customs committee. Meanwhile, a top tax service official, Vladimir Popov, said that the authorities intend to transfer the accounts of large taxpayers to the most reliable commercial banks authorized to work with governmental accounts, Kommersant-Daily reported on 18 February. Although the measure can reduce delays in payment, it is likely to provoke another round of war among banks for large clients. At present, tax arrears due to delays in payment via commercial banks total 3 trillion rubles. -- Natalia Gurushina CAPITAL FLIGHT FROM RUSSIA. The total volume of capital flight from Russia over the last five years is estimated at some $60 billion, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 18 February, citing a former partner in the Moscow branch of Coopers & Lybrand. Most of the money was deposited in banks in Switzerland and Cyprus. Some 41,000 industrial companies, 50% of banks, and over 80% of joint ventures are believed to have criminal connections. The shadow economy is estimated to account for up to 40% of the Russian economy. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS 1997 BUDGET. Following more than two months of debate, the Armenian National Assembly on 18 February adopted the 1997 budget, international media reported. The budget envisages expenditures of 151.9 billion drams ($325 million) with 30.5 billion drams to be spent on defense needs and 16.8 billion allocated for social welfare. According to Reuters, the budget projects a 10.5% inflation rate in 1997, and practically all of its 33.9 billion dram deficit will be covered by international financial institutions. Addressing the parliament, President Levon Ter-Petrossyan described it as a "budget of survival but not a budget of development." The Communist Party was the only faction that voted against the draft. The two other parliamentary opposition parties, the National Democratic Union and the National Self- Determination Union, have been boycotting the legislature since the 25 September post-election unrest. -- Emil Danielyan ARMENIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES TO FORM "UNITED FRONT." A round table discussion involving the main Armenian opposition parties decided on 17 February to form a "united front" against the current government and to convene the new movement's founding congress soon, Noyan Tapan reported. According to the opposition leaders, the movement's only goal is to "establish democracy in Armenia." In particular, this involves holding fresh presidential, parliamentary, and local elections and adopting a new constitution. David Vartanyan, a representative of the National Democratic Union, said that the new organization will include Armenian NGOs and distinguished individuals who are unhappy with the current regime. Meanwhile, during a mass rally in Yerevan on 18 February to mark the 76th anniversary of the 1921 anti-Bolshevik revolt, the opposition reiterated its claims that the "illegitimacy of the Armenian leadership" is hindering a solution to the country's pressing problems. -- Emil Danielyan REGIONAL UZBEK BOSS ANSWERS TO POOR ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE. Mirzajon Islamov was removed from his post as administrative head of the Ferghana Wilayat on 14 February, Narodnoe slovo reported on 15 February. In a meeting chaired by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Islamov was accused of "no longer answering the needs of the time," a charge levied against other regional hokims in 1996 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 December 1996). The president considered the pace of privatization and economic reform to have been too slow, noting that only 35 out of 73 registered joint ventures in the region were still in operation. In addition, light industries were operating at only 50% capacity and agricultural harvests for 1996 were a disappointing 77% of the required quota. His successor is Numonjon Mominov, a district head of administration from the same Ferghana apparatus as Islamov. -- Roger Kangas UZBEKISTAN PROTESTS ATTACK ON CUSTOMS OFFICERS. The Uzbek Foreign Ministry protested to Dushanbe after three Uzbek customs officers were wounded in a 15 February attack on their outpost in Besharik, RFE/RL reported on 18 February. Uzbek authorities believe the assault from Tajik territory was well-planned and designed to aggravate tensions between the Leninabad region of Tajikistan and adjacent Uzbek areas. This is the second such incident to occur this year. -- Lowell Bezanis TURKMEN UPDATE. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov and Barnea Eli, president of the Dutch subsidiary of the Israeli concern Bateman, signed a $180 million deal to modernize Turkmenistan's aging pipeline system, RFE/RL reported on 19 February. The U.S. and South Africa are to provide capital for the undertaking. -- Lowell Bezanis TURGUNALIEV TRIAL UPDATE. The Supreme Court of Kyrgyzstan changed the verdict handed down by a Bishkek municipal court to Topchubek Turgunaliev on embezzlement charges early last month, RFE/RL reported on 18 February. The Supreme Court reduced a 10-year prison term to a three- year suspended sentence and one year deportation to the Issyk-Kul region; the other defendant in the case, Timur Stamkulov, had his sentence reduced from six to three years. Turgunaliev's lawyers declared their intention to appeal the latest decision in Kyrgyzstan's Constitutional Court. In other news, the presidential administration of Kyrgyzstan was shrunk by a 14 February presidential decree from 127 to 89, RFE/RL reported the same day. -- Naryn Idinov TAJIKISTAN OPPOSITION ON HOSTAGE TAKING. The Russian intelligence service and the Tajik government orchestrated the recently concluded hostage taking crisis in Tajikistan in an attempt to bring another group into the inter-Tajik talks and set it against the opposition, according to a clandestine Tajik opposition radio report by the BBC monitored 15 February Interfax report. According to a Russian media report issued immediately after the hostages were released, Tajik Presidential Press Secretary Zafar Saidov was quoted as saying the Sadirov brothers declared their "loyalty" to Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and did not lay claim to the status of a "third force" in the Tajik peace talks. The next round of talks is scheduled to take place later this week in Meshed, Iran. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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