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No. 40, Part I, 26 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 RUMORS OF IMPENDING CHERNOMYRDIN DISMISSAL. President Boris Yeltsin has already decided to sack Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Izvestiya speculated on 25 February, citing an anonymous source in the government. The paper predicted that the dismissal will take place after Yeltsin's annual message to the parliament, which is scheduled for 6 March. The paper said the source had mentioned two possible candidates to succeed Chernomyrdin: Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev. It is unlikely that the State Duma would confirm Chubais in the post, but he could possibly serve as acting prime minister. On 24 February, the president's spokesman denied that Chernomyrdin may soon be fired (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 February 1997). -- Nikolai Iakoubovski ZYUGANOV ON CABINET RESHUFFLE, PROTESTS. Predicting that March would be "the month of great changes," Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov called on President Yeltsin to form a "government of national trust," an idea Zyuganov first proposed before the second round of last year's presidential election, Russian media reported on 25 February. Noting that the ground was being prepared for a major cabinet reshuffle, Zyuganov warned that neither the State Duma nor the public would support a return to the government by Chubais. He also said that the Communist Party would support the general day of protest planned for 27 March, adding that Communists are already participating in various protests by doctors and teachers whose salaries have not been paid. -- Laura Belin RUSSIAN-CHECHEN TALKS. Russian and Chechen delegations headed respectively by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and acting First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov met near Moscow on 25 February to begin discussions on two draft agreements on peace, accord and cooperation and on future economic ties between the federal center and Grozny, Western and Russian agencies reported. Udugov subsequently told journalists that the negotiations "were rather good," and Rybkin said that he foresaw no major obstacles to signing the agreements, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 25 February, Chechen President and Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov met with Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov in Stavropol krai but failed to reach agreement on setting up joint Russian-Chechen border posts, according to Radio Rossii. -- Liz Fuller RODIONOV vs. BATURIN. The feud between Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin continues. Baturin, interviewed in Itogi on 25 February, said that the strategic forces are in good shape, contradicting Rodionov's warning in his 23 February veterans' day speech of a possible command breakdown. The two men had tried to present a united front in a joint press conference on 7 February. However, according to Kommersant Daily on 25 February, Rodionov broke the "truce" with Baturin in his speech because of hostile questioning from the retired generals in the auditorium and he called, indirectly, for Baturin's dismissal. In an interview with Rossiiskaya gazeta on 22 February, Rodionov said that Yeltsin had been misinformed about the state of the army, and criticized the idea that reform should concentrate on downsizing and modernizing. In that interview, Rodionov also thanked Chernomyrdin for "easing" the military wage arrears problem. -- Peter Rutland FELGENGAUER ON ALBRIGHT. Pavel Felgengauer, writing in Segodnya of 24 February, gave a surprisingly harsh evaluation of the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in sharp contrast to the tone of most Western reports. Felgengauer noted that while Albright was meeting Yeltsin on 21 February, Chernomyrdin was at the Odintsovo nuclear command center, overseeing an exercise whose assignment was "to destroy the U.S. in less than one hour." Felgengauer argued that U.S. officials have been telling themselves for the past two years that Moscow will eventually accept NATO expansion, but have not been listening to what Moscow was saying. Felgengauer said that Albright came to Moscow with "some attractive" proposals, such as asymmetrical reductions in strategic weapons in Russia's favor under START 3. However, he said that "the Americans don't believe in Moscow," and warned that these concessions are mere "deception" prior to NATO's July summit, after which they will not be implemented. -- Peter Rutland MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT IN MOSCOW. Petru Lucinschi, starting his first official visit abroad since taking office last month, on 25 February held talks in Moscow with President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and other senior Russian officials. The issue of Moldova's breakaway Dniester region figured high on the agenda of his talks with Yeltsin. The two leaders stressed that the key element in solving the long-standing conflict was "unconditional respect" for the principle of Moldova's territorial integrity. Lucinschi further insisted that the Russian troops based in the Dniester region be withdrawn as soon as possible, in keeping with an October 1994 bilateral agreement. Discussions with Chernomyrdin focused on economic issues, including Russian gas deliveries to and investments in Moldova. -- Dan Ionescu FORMER DISSIDENT SINYAVSKII DIES. Andrei Sinyavskii, one of the defendants in the last Soviet show trial, died in Paris at age 71, Russian and Western agencies reported on 25 February. Sinyavskii began publishing unorthodox fiction and literary criticism abroad under the pseudonym Abram Tertz in the 1950s. He was arrested in 1965 and tried the following year, along with his friend Yulii Daniel, for publishing "anti-Soviet" material. Sentenced to seven years in prison, Sinyavskii was released from a labor camp in 1971 and emigrated to France with his family two years later. He spent the rest of his life in Paris and continued to write, publishing fiction under the name Tertz and non- fiction under his own name. He and his wife, Mariya Rozanova, periodically visited Russia in recent years and sharply criticized economic policies carried out under President Boris Yeltsin (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 January 1997). -- Laura Belin WELL-KNOWN JOURNALIST KILLED. Prominent journalist Vadim Biryukov was found dead in his garage on 25 February, Izvestiya reported. His body was bound with tape, and he had been badly beaten. Kommersant-Daily quoted police investigators as saying that Biryukov's car was missing and that the motive for the murder was probably robbery. Biryukov, 64, worked for many years for the official news agency TASS before founding the business journal Delovye lyudi. At the time of his death, he was deputy director of the Press-kontakt publishing house, which puts out Delovye lyudi and the English-language Business in Russia. -- Penny Morvant IMF DELAYS LOAN TRANCHE. The IMF officially announced on 25 February that it is delaying disbursement of the $340 million January loan tranche to Russia, Reuters and RFE/RL reported. The principal reason given was the poor level of tax collection in January. RFE/RL reported on 25 February that the IMF denied claims by economist Anders Aslund that a "secret budget" for 1997 was being prepared, with radically lower expectations of budgetary revenue. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 25 February suggested that the real reason for the delay was Russian reluctance to follow IMF advice to cut social spending, including the politically controversial question of pensions for working pensioners, and to restructure "natural monopolies" such as Gazprom and the electric power company EES (Unified Energy Systems). -- Peter Rutland LUKOIL'S RESOURCES ARE WORLD'S LARGEST AMONG PRIVATE OIL FIRMS. A survey by the U.S. firm Miller & Lents showed that the Russian company LUKoil ranks first in the world among private oil firms as regards the size of its proven oil reserves, Kommersant-Daily reported on 26 February. LUKoil's reserves are estimated at 10.8 billion barrels (1.5 billion metric tons), of which some 2.85 billion barrels are located in the European part of Russia. In December 1995, LUKoil became the first Russian company allowed to trade its stock in the form of American Depository Receipts. -- Natalia Gurushina TAX VIOLATIONS IN MOSCOW. The Moscow city tax police intends to crack down on violations related to the registration of companies and organizations in the city, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 February. According to the tax police, the number of registered legal persons in Moscow in 1996 increased by 70,000 and reached 497,000. However, some 125,000 of them submitted incorrect information about their addresses. There are 55 postal addresses in Moscow, each of which is used by 500 different firms. Some 9,700 companies were registered with the use of lost or stolen passports. The tax police has also announced that, although Moscow accounts for nearly one-fifth of Russia's foreign trade turnover ($24.6 billion in 1996), the city is not receiving substantial sums of tax revenue from these operations. In 1996 Moscow-based companies transferred about $5 billion abroad through commercial banks in the Baltic states. -- Natalia Gurushina SITUATION IN THE GOLD MINING INDUSTRY. A spokesperson for the Union of Russian Goldmining Artels announced at the union's extraordinary meeting that the government owes goldminers some 1.6 trillion rubles ($280 million at the current exchange rate) for deliveries of gold in 1996, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 25 February. If the government fails to repay the shortfall in the near future, goldminers are threatening to cut production in 1997 by 40-60% compared to the expected level. Russia's gold output declined from 133 metric tons in 1994 to 101 metric tons in 1996. Goldmining artels account for some 60% of Russia's total gold output. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIA CRITICIZED FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES. A report compiled by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation criticizes human rights violations in Georgia in 1995-6, including torture of political prisoners and the imprisonment of 80 supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, according to AFP of 24 February. Fifty people were sentenced to death, some on charges of treason, before President Eduard Shevardnadze imposed a moratorium on executions and the parliament voted to reduce the number of crimes incurring capital punishment in December 1996. An Amnesty International report released in October 1996 was similarly critical of the use of torture in Georgian prisons and lack of impartiality during court proceedings. -- Liz Fuller UN, RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTRY REACTION TO ABKHAZ TERRORIST INCIDENT. The UN Security Council on 25 February condemned a series of recent guerrilla attacks on CIS peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia and called on both parties to the conflict to ensure their future safety, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 25 February, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreyev condemned the most recent incident on 22 February in which three peacekeepers were killed. The presidents of Abkhazia and Georgia, Vladislav Ardzinba and Eduard Shevardnadze, have both announced the suspension of bilateral talks on the future status of Abkhazia vis-a-vis the central government in Tbilisi because of the alleged intransigence of the opposing side, according to Georgian media reports monitored by the BBC. -- Liz Fuller ISLAMISTS GO ON TRIAL IN BAKU. The trial opened belatedly in Baku on 25 February of four of the 10 members of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan arrested in May 1996, ITAR-TASS reported. The four men, including party leader Ali Akram Aliev, are charged with collaborating with the Iranian intelligence service. The Islamic Party was originally founded and registered in 1992 but failed to secure reregistration in August 1995 in the run-up to the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections. It has an estimated 50,000 members, according to ITAR-TASS, and it is reportedly financed by Tehran. -- Liz Fuller RUSSIA, CENTRAL ASIA AND AFGHANISTAN. Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and his counterparts from Central Asian countries except Turkmenistan held closed-door talks in Tashkent on 25 February to discuss what Russian media termed the "deteriorating" politico-military situation in Afghanistan. The meeting, originally scheduled for March, was brought forward at the request of Uzbek President Aslam Karimov, who held talks with Rodionov the day before the official delegations met. Several plans were reportedly discussed, including the possible creation of two joint motorized divisions to protect the CIS-Afghan border in the event that the Taliban overwhelm Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's forces. Rodionov said he was "very satisified" with the talks and claimed all sides believe the conflict in Afghanistan is moving "beyond an intra- state struggle." The same day the London Times reported that Moscow is supplying arms to northern Afghanistan to be used against the Taliban. -- Lowell Bezanis CLASHES IN TAJIKISTAN. An estimated 25 people have been killed in clashes in Kofarnikhon district in the last week, according to 25 February Russian media reports monitored by the BBC. The clashes pit a group loyal to the brothers Rezvon and Bakhrom Sadirov against a group, led by Kasim Ismatov, loyal to the United Tajik Opposition. The latter asked permission from Tajik President Immomali Rakhmonov, opposition leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri, and the UN mission in the country, to annihilate the opposing group. No reaction to this request was reported. Aside from their involvement in two hostage-taking incidents since last December, the pro-opposition turned pro-government turned independent Sadirov brothers and their companions are widely believed to be an anti- opposition strike force given a free rein to operate in Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan by Moscow and Dushanbe. -- Lowell Bezanis KYRGYZ POLITICIAN RELEASED. The chairman of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, Topchubek Turgunaliev, was released from custody in Bishkek on 25 February, RFE-RL reported. Accused of abuse of power, embezzlement, and forgery, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment before the republic's Supreme Court overturned the second two charges and reduced the sentence on 18 February. Turgunaliev must reside in Bishkek and report to the authorities on a monthly basis; when two-thirds of his term is completed, it could be suspended. -- Naryn Idinov [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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