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No. 41, Part I, 27 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 RUSSIA MORE CABINET RESHUFFLE RUMORS. The minister most likely to be sacrificed in the coming cabinet reshuffle appears to be Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. President Boris Yeltsin's press service on 26 February said Yeltsin disapproved of Rodionov's recent remarks on the state of affairs in the military, Russian media reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 and 26 February 1997). Rodionov's most likely replacement, according to the 27 February Izvestiya, is Far East Military District Commander Viktor Chechevatov. Other likely candidates for dismissal include Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan and Viktor Ilyushin, first deputy prime minister in charge of social issues. While Izvestiya and Argumenty i fakty continued to speculate that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will be sacked, Nezavisimaya gazeta and Komsomolskaya pravda on 27 February predicted that Chernomyrdin will remain in office, with Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais returning to the post of first deputy prime minister, which he held until January 1996. -- Laura Belin BUDGET SIGNED INTO LAW. On 25 February Yeltsin signed into law the 1997 budget, NTV reported the next day. The budget plans expenditure of 530 trillion rubles ($76 billion), including 104 trillion on defense, 47 trillion on internal security, 18.5 trillion on education, and 10 trillion on social policy. With income of 434 trillion rubles and a deficit of 95 trillion (3.5% of GDP), the budget formally complies with the deficit guidelines agreed with the IMF, but there are question marks over the government's capacity to actually implement the budget. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin admitted that 40 trillion rubles of expenditure carried over from 1996 are "not covered" by revenues at present, Russian TV (RTR) reported. -- Peter Rutland LUZHKOV ON UNION WITH BELARUS. Speaking at a conference on Russia and Belarus on 26 February, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov called for reorganisation of the Russian Federation and a merger with Belarus in a confederation, AFP and Kommersant-Daily reported. Luzhkov said the number of Federation subjects should be reduced from 89 to some 10-12, which Belarus could join. Last month, President Boris Yeltsin, who plans to meet Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 7 March, sent him a letter proposing a referendum on a merger of the two states, following up the April 1996 union treaty. Luzhkov's proposal is unlikely to appeal to Lukashenka, who insists on a merger of two equal states. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski FOREIGN MINISTER IN DENMARK. "The Baltic states' entry into NATO would be unacceptable to Russia," Yevgenii Primakov said at the conclusion of his visit to Denmark on 26 February, ITAR-TASS reported. "We do not veto the issue, but we say that this is unacceptable to us. Should this happen, it would undermine our relations with NATO entirely," Primakov said, adding that he would see the Baltics' entry to the EU as a "positive" development. Primakov noted that Denmark, a NATO member, like Norway has no foreign troops or nuclear weapons on its territory. He said "the ball is now in NATO's court" with respect to NATO expansion, and that he is waiting a response to Russia's proposals for a binding agreement. Writing in the European on 27 February, Russian ambassador to the UK Anatolii Adamishin said NATO should change its name, "which has too many odious associations in Russia. ... After all, we are not the USSR any more." -- Peter Rutland RUSSIAN DESERTERS TO STAY IN GERMANY. On 25 February, the parties in Germany's ruling coalition agreed in principle to give 600 Russian soldiers and their families the right to political asylum in Germany, Reuters reported. The soldiers deserted from the 340,000 Soviet troops who were based in East Germany until 1994. The German government planned to return them to Russia, but human rights groups and German veterans organizations complained that the soldiers could face prison sentences of 10 to 20 years for treason. On 25 February, Interior Ministry State Secretary Eduard Lintner admitted that 530 of the soldiers had been questioned by German intelligence services, and the next day Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said Russia had refused to grant them amnesty. -- Peter Rutland NOVOROSSIISK PIPELINE. In an interview with Turan on 26 February, Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev said Chechnya is prepared to conclude an agreement with "the owners" of the Caspian oil that will be exported via Novorossiisk to guarantee the safety of the entire length of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline. He also expressed gratitude for Azerbaijan's "invaluable assistance" to Grozny during the war with Russia and offered Chechnya's assistance (not necessarily military) in restoring Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, adding that he considered that peace between Armenia and Azerbaijan is contingent on Russian mediation. -- Liz Fuller MORE CORRUPTION CHARGES AGAINST GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS. The Pacific Fleet Procurator's Office has begun criminal proceedings against Russian Navy Chief of Staff Admiral Igor Khmelnov for abuse of office, Ekho Moskvy reported on 26 February. Khmelnov, who used to command the Pacific Fleet, is accused of misusing money the fleet received from the sale of ships to South Korea. Khmelnov promised to use the proceeds from the deal (worth $9 million) to provide officers with housing, but he allegedly distributed most of the apartments among friends and relatives. Meanwhile, Kommersant-Daily reported on 27 February that Moscow police detained a department head in the Health Ministry, Aleksei Solovev, on suspicion of extortion and bribe-taking. One of Solovev's predecessors was also arrested for swindling. The paper ran several reports on the Balkar-Trading company scandal, in connection with which former Procurator General Aleksei Ilyushenko was arrested. The articles suggest that other high-ranking officials also participated in corrupt deals. -- Penny Morvant EXCISE STAMPS INTRODUCED FOR RUSSIAN TOBACCO PRODUCTS. In an attempt to boost revenues, the government issued a resolution on 25 February requiring all domestically produced tobacco products sold after 1 June to carry excise stamps, ITAR-TASS and Segodnya reported. Tobacco manufacturers must conduct inventories on 1 April, the date on which the stamps will be introduced, and they have two months to sell their remaining products. Imported tobacco as well as cigarettes produced under license in Russia already carry stamps, and the government initially sought to extend the practice to cover Russian tobacco by 1 July 1996. Implementation of the new rules was postponed, however, when government credits to help manufacturers purchase machinery to attach the stamps were not released in time. -- Penny Morvant JUDICIAL CHAMBER REPRIMANDS NOVAYA GAZETA. The President's Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes has found that an open letter published this month in Novaya gazeta contained false information intended to damage the reputation of Eduard Sagalaev, then-chairman of Russian TV (RTR). The publication, in which current and former RTR executives accused Sagalaev of financial improprieties and poor management, sparked a scandal that quickly led to Sagalaev's resignation (see OMRI Daily Digest, 4 and 10 February 1997). The chamber's decision, published in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 26 February, found that in violation of Russian law, Novaya gazeta's editors made no attempts to confirm the accuracy of the information contained in the letter. The chamber is only a consultative body, but it referred the case to the Moscow Procurator's Office to examine whether the letter's authors or the newspaper's editors could be prosecuted for libeling Sagalaev. -- Laura Belin ROUND TABLE CALLS FOR DEFENDING WOMEN'S RIGHTS. A Moscow round table organized by the Union of Women and the Union of Journalists called for action to provide women with the equal rights and opportunities guaranteed in theory by the Russian constitution, ITAR-TASS and Russian TV (RTR) reported on 26 February. Participants criticized the media for biased reporting, publications "insulting" to women, and sexist job advertisements. However, Union of Women leader Alevtina Fedulova said the media were merely reflecting the "second-class" status of women in Russian society, which she blamed on a "centuries-old patriarchal tradition." She added that the only privileges currently enjoyed by Russian women are higher rates of poverty and unemployment. Union of Journalists Chairman Vsevolod Bogdanov promised to raise the issue with newspaper editors and to create an annual award for the best media coverage of women's problems. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN FIRES PHOTOGRAPHER. President Yeltsin sacked his personal photographer, Dmitrii Sokolov, for being drunk on duty, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 February. Sokolov, who had worked with the president since 1987, was on the staff of the Presidential Security Service (SBP). Moskovskii komsomolets claimed several other SBP members were also fired, including the official responsible for arranging Yeltsin's trips abroad. The reason for the dismissals, the paper alleged, was a loud party in the Kremlin to celebrate the 9 February victory of former SBP head Aleksandr Korzhakov in a by-election in Tula. Komsomolskaya pravda on 27 February claimed there had been two parties--one to celebrate Korzhakov's victory and one, organized by Anatolii Chubais' circle, to celebrate the appointment of Nikolai Svanidze to head RTR. The paper claimed that Sokolov got into a fight with TV journalist Sergei Dorenko. Also on 26 February, Radio Mayak said Mikhail Lesin had resigned from his position as chief of public relations for the presidential administration. -- Penny Morvant YELTSIN SIGNS LAW ON HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER. President Yeltsin on 26 February signed the constitutional Law on the Russian Federation Human Rights Commissioner, ITAR-TASS reported. The commissioner, who is responsible for overseeing state protection of individuals rights and freedoms, is appointed and dismissed by the Duma by secret ballot. The bill was passed by the Duma on 25 December (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 January 1996) and by the Federation Council on 12 February. -- Penny Morvant TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA MINSK GROUP CO-CHAIRS TO RESUME STALLED TALKS ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH. Representatives of Russia, France, and the U.S.--the three co-chairs of the OSCE's Minsk group, which sponsors negotiations on the Nagorno- Karabakh conflict's settlement--met in Copenhagen to discuss ways of reviving the deadlocked peace process, RFE/RL reported on 26 February. The three agreed that "more preparations" are necessary before the talks can resume and that a French fact-finding team will be sent to the region next week to meet with all sides to the conflict. According to ITAR-TASS, a new round of negotiations is scheduled for April. -- Emil Danielyan ARMENIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS WITH REPRESENTATIVES OF BANNED PARTY. Aleksandr Arzumanyan, on 25 February met in Washington with leaders of the Dashnak party (HHD), banned in Armenia since December 1994, Asbarez- on-line reported. Arzumanyan stressed the importance of "national unity" for a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. A day earlier, Armenia's ambassador to Greece visited the HHD headquarters in Athens and discussed the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Contacts between Armenian high-ranking officials and the HHD, the leading Armenian Diaspora organization, resumed last December after President Levon Ter-Petrossyan called for a "consolidation" of all Armenians in the world. -- Emil Danielyan TURKMEN PRESIDENT IN INDIA. Saparmurad Niyazov concluded a two-day state visit to India on 26 February, international media reported. Niyazov held talks on regional issues, notably Afghanistan, and bilateral cooperation with his Indian counterpart Dayal Sharma and top Indian government officials. Bilateral agreements in the spheres of economics, culture, health, communications, and the environment were signed, RFE/RL reported. Meanwhile, an outbreak of typhoid fever has reportedly hit Ashgabat, RFE/RL reported on 26 February. -- Lowell Bezanis KAZAKSTAN UPDATE. Presidential adviser Asylbek Beysenbayev will lead the newly formed Liberal Movement, RFE/RL reported on 25 February. Speaking at Almaty's Democracy House, Beysenbayev said his movement sought to hold the middle ground between the government and its conservative opposition. In other news, Kazakstani officials banned Russian TV-6 Moskva, Kazak Totem TV, Totem Radio, and Radio Max, Reporters sans Frontiers reported on 25 February. The same day, Russian media reported that Kazakstan's new criminal code has been finalized; the code provides for fines and public works instead of imprisonment for some crimes. The death penalty remains for premeditated murder, the attempted murder of a state official, and military crimes or high treason in time of war. The draft criminal code has been 6 years in the making and must be approved by parliament. Finally, a consortium headed by the Malaysian firm Mega Meisa will build and operate a $1.3 billion coal-fired power plant in Kazakstan, RFE/RL reported on 26 February. -- Lowell Bezanis UZBEK PRESIDENT ON ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE. Islam Karimov told a government assembly 1996 was a "year of economic and financial stabilization," RFE/RL reported on 26 February. He said, the budget deficit did not exceed 3.5%, inflation was cut in half (he gave no figures), the national currency strengthened, and foreign trade was over $9.3 billion dollars. He called for 1997 to be a "year of human interests" and social security for all. The same day, the head of the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation, Ruth Harkin, held talks with Karimov and other top officials in Tashkent. Harkin is checking on Amercian investment projects the OPIC has underwritten. The OPIC has provided $200 million worth of political risk insurance and financing for U.S. projects in Uzbekistan. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Susan Caskie ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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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