|The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion. - Thomas Paine|
No. 39, Part I, 25 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 YELTSIN FAVORS CABINET RESHUFFLE. President Boris Yeltsin has criticized the government for failing to ensure the timely payment of wages and pensions and proposed that it be reshuffled to make it more efficient, international agencies reported. At a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 24 January, Yeltsin noted that many Russians are "dissatisfied with the government, its chairman, and consequently the president" and suggested that the prime minister draw up proposals on "structural" and, "if necessary," personnel changes. The president's spokesman later denied rumors that Chernomyrdin's own position might be under threat. Chernomyrdin noted that a timetable for paying pension arrears has been agreed and sought to shift some of the blame onto the regions by arguing that federal money allocated to pay wages is often misused. A cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to solve the intractable arrears problem, and Yeltsin's comments were probably intended primarily to show that he is ready to reenter the political fray after his long illness. -- Penny Morvant YELTSIN MEETS WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN. In his first meeting with new Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai, Yeltsin said that "under no circumstances" should the constitution be amended within the next several years, Russian media reported on 24 February. "Our society has not reached this stage yet," he added. Although the president's supporters on the Constitutional Court outnumber his opponents, Yeltsin complained that some judges on the court criticize the constitution, when they should merely respect and interpret it. Yeltsin's Communist opponents in the State Duma have long advocated constitutional amendments to reduce presidential power, and some Federation Council members have recently suggested that the upper house of parliament might support amendments along these lines. -- Laura Belin DUMA COMMITTEE REJECTS LAW ON YELTSIN'S HEALTH. The State Duma Legislation Committee, chaired by Anatolii Lukyanov, has rejected a draft law proposed by Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin on removing Yeltsin from office for health reasons, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. Both Lukyanov and Ilyukhin are influential members of the Communist Party. The legislation committee had considered eight different versions of a law to clarify how and when the president must hand over power to the prime minister, Lukyanov said, and the version his committee selected does not address Yeltsin's current state of health. Yeltsin suggested on 23 February that he may "hit back" if the Duma continues its efforts to remove him on health grounds. But Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov dismissed Yeltsin's veiled threat to dissolve the lower house of parliament, saying neither the army nor the public would support such a move, Reuters reported. -- Laura Belin JOURNALISTS PROTEST DUMA DECISION ON ORT CORRESPONDENT. Union of Journalists Chairman Vsevolod Bogdanov and Glasnost Defense Foundation head Aleksei Simonov issued an open letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev demanding that the Duma reverse its decision to revoke the accreditation of a television journalist, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. The Duma revoked its accreditation of Pavel Ryazantsev, a Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondent, for one month because of his report on parliamentary debate over a new pornography law. Bogdanov and Simonov argued that under Russian media law, a court must approve any decision to revoke a correspondent's accreditation, which can be done only if the journalist is found to have misreported the facts. -- Laura Belin PRIMAKOV IN NORWAY. Visiting Oslo on 24 February, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov suggested that the "Norwegian model" of NATO membership could be appropriate for Eastern Europe, Russian Tv (RTR) reported. Norway is a member of NATO but has no foreign bases on its territory and does not permit the stationing of nuclear weapons. Primakov said his talks with NATO Secretary General Javier de Solana on 23 February were "not easy" but had made "some progress, in certain directions," NTV reported the next day. The station also claimed that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov is "sceptical" about the proposal to form a joint NATO-Russian brigade. There were conficting reports on whether or not NATO and Russian officials in Brussels are concretely working on a document which will form a joint agreement. -- Peter Rutland NATO UPDATE. The U.S. government appeared to be distancing itself from statements of President Yeltsin suggesting that a compromise deal was in the works. White House spokesman Michael McCurry said "There's no compromise on the central fact that we will explore with our treaty ally partners the expansion of NATO at the Madrid summit later this year," AFP reported on 25 February. Russia is pressing for a legally-binding agreement, in part because they claim that the informal promises about NATO not expanding which were given to Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 during German unification were not adhered to. -- Peter Rutland ITALIAN JOURNALIST ABDUCTED IN CHECHNYA. An Italian photographer was abducted by masked men in Grozny on 23 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. Although several Russian journalists have been held hostage over the past two years, this is the first instance in which a foreign journalist has been targeted. On 24 February, Chechen President and Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov chaired a cabinet meeting; no detalis of the agenda were released. Also on 24 February, a member of the Chechen Presidential Council told ITAR-TASS that a peace treaty between the Russian Federation and Chechnya is currently being drafted and will be submitted to Moscow for discussion before the end of this month. The same official also predicted that the name of radical field commander Salman Raduev, who continues to threaten terrorist acts against the Russian Federation, "will disappear from the mass media" after the signing of the Russian-Chechen agreement. -- Liz Fuller ANOTHER SUPERCOMPUTER SALE. Russia has purchased an IBM RS/6000 SP for $7 million through a European middleman and will use the machine to simulate nuclear tests, according to the New York Times on 25 February. U.S. firms are required by law to seek approval from the Commerce Department before selling Russia a computer that can perform more than two billion calculations per second. Last week it was revealed that Silicon Graphics had sold two similar high-powered machines to Russia (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 February 1997). In principle, Russia can use these computers to develop new nuclear warheads, even while observing the ban on nuclear test explosions. Izvestiya complained on 22 February that leakage of information about these sales are part of a U.S. plot to discredit Russia. -- Peter Rutland LAUNCH OF ALFA STATION WILL BE DELAYED. The head of the Russian Space Agency, Yurii Koptev, has acknowledged that largely due to a lack of financing, Russia has delayed the launch of the international orbital space station Alfa that was originally scheduled for November 1997, ITAR-TASS and Izvestiya reported on 24-25 February. In 1996, the industry did not receive the 900 billion rubles ($160 million) that was allocated to it in the federal budget. According to Koptev, the industry has lost some 42% of its specialists over the last two years and 11 out of the 38 companies working for the space agency are on the brink of bankruptcy. More than 60% of Russia's satellites have exceeded their recommended period of service. The Alfa launch is likely to be postponed until June 1998. Meanwhile, a minor fire broke out on board the Russian orbital space station Mir when astronauts were installing a new air filter. None of the six astronauts were injured. -- Natalia Gurushina MOSCOW GETS INTERNATIONAL CREDIT RATING. Moscow has become the first Russian region to get an international credit rating, Kommersant-Daily and Segodnya reported on 25 February. The credit rating agencies Standard & Poor's and Moody's gave Moscow the same speculative grades BB- and Ba2, respectively, as they gave Russian government bonds on the eve of Russia's first sovereign eurobond issue in November 1996. The floatation of the first tranche of Moscow eurobonds is slated for 15 March. The investment banks CS First Boston and Nomura International will underwrite the $400 million issue. So far, six other regions--the St. Petersburg, Nizhnii Novgorod, and Sverdlovsk oblasts, the Altai Krai, Tatarstan, and Marii-El--have announced their intention to float eurobond issues, Delovoi mir reported on 21 February. -- Natalia Gurushina REGENT GAZ BACKS OFF. The Cayman Islands-based Regent Gaz Investment Company has announced that it will comply with demands of the Russian giant Gazprom to stop operations with Gazprom's shares traded on the domestic market (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 February 1997), Kommersant- Daily reported on 25 February. The company has also stated that Regent Gaz will repurchase shares worth some $200 million from its shareholders and that the company itself will then be dissolved. -- Natalia Gurushina DUMA OVERRIDES FEDERATION COUNCIL'S VETO ON VEKSELYA. The Duma on 21 February overrode the Federation Council's veto on the law on bills of exchange (vekselya)--promissory notes with which organizations extended short-term credits to each other, Kommersant-Daily reported on 25 February. The law limits the rights of regional authorties to issue vekselya and bans the issuance of electronic bills of exchange. The Duma's move supports the Finance Ministry's earlier attempts to eliminate the destabilizing influence of the massive issuance of vekselya (which are a form of surrogate money) on the Russian financial system by announcing that it will cut the volume of its guarantees for vekselya floated by commercial banks. The Federation Council, composed of regional representatives, was trying to defend the rights of the regions to run independent monetary policy. It remains to be see whether Yeltsin will sign the bill into law. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY ADMITS NUKES WERE DEPLOYED IN GEORGIA. The deputy chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, Tengiz Razmadze, has admitted that "tactical, medium-range" rockets with nuclear warheads were stored at the Soviet military base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, NTV reported on 24 February. The warheads were reportedly removed in 1989, after the political disturbances in April of that year. Formerly, Russian and Georgian officials had claimed there had never been nuclear weapons stationed in Georgia. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS KILLED IN ABKHAZIA. A Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman on 24 February condemned the deaths on 22 February of three Russian peacekeeping soldiers in Abkhazia, who were killed when their vehicle hit a mine, Reuters reported. The commander of the Russian force, Maj.-Gen. Dorii Babenkov, and an Abkhaz Defense Ministry spokesman blamed the incident on the Georgian "White Legion," which they claim is subordinate to the Georgian security service. The legion is a Georgian guerrilla formation seeking to restore Georgian hegemony over Abkhazia. Meeting on 24 February with the deputy head of the UN military mission in Georgia, Deputy Foreign Minister Giga Burduli reaffirmed his government's commitment to seeking a peaceful solution to the standoff between Tbilisi and the separatist regime in Sukhumi, according to ITAR- TASS. -- Liz Fuller GEORGIAN CONDUIT TO TURKEY. During a recent joint economic session held in Tbilisi, Georgia and Turkey reached a pipeline and power deal according to a 23 February Interfax report monitored by the BBC. Under the deal, Turkey will receive Russian gas via Georgia once an existing pipeline is refurbished and extended 30 km to the Turkish border. The pipeline is to initially carry 3 billion cubic meters annually, subsequently rising to 9 billion cubic meters. Georgia is planning to generate electricity from Turkmen gas for subsequent transmission to Turkey. -- Lowell Bezanis MOUSIN TO BE EXTRADITED, ROTAR DENIED ACCREDITATION. Recently detained in Moscow by Russian law enforcement officials, Albert Mousin, a freelance reporter working for RFE/RL, Komsomolskaya pravda, and Ekho Moskvy, is to be extradited to Uzbekistan, Radio Rossii reported on 24 February. The same day, RFE/RL reported that Russia's branch of the PEN club has called for the 44-year-old human rights advocate and reporter to be released. They claim that Mousin is a citizen of Kazakstan, not Uzbekistan, and that it is "not the first time" Russian law enforcement agencies are helping Central Asian and Transcaucasian governments "settle scores" with their political opponents. Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities have denied accreditation to Nezavisimaya gazeta reporter Igor Rotar on the grounds he has been "unscrupulous and biased" in his reporting on certain events that took place in Tajikistan, according to a 21 February Nezavisimaya gazeta monitored by the BBC. Nezavisimaya gazeta has expressed bewilderment at the decision. -- Lowell Bezanis TYPHOID EPIDEMIC UPDATE. The typhoid fever epidemic in Tajikistan has spread beyond Dushanbe to Kulyab and Tursun Zade, Reuters reported on 21 February. The Tajik authorities have closed down schools in Dushanbe in an effort to stem the epidemic which is believed to be infecting between 150-200 people every day. An estimated 4,000 people have fallen ill to date. Aid workers say the city's water supply, which has not been chlorinated in three months, is "a million times worse" than World Health Organization standards and citizens cannot afford fuel to boil their water. -- 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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