|Words that open our eyes to the world are always the easiest to remember. - Ryszard Kapuscinski|
No. 42, Part I, 28 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 7 March issue of OMRI's journal, TRANSITION: BALKAN UNREST - Pyramid Schemes Leave Albania on Shaky Ground - Back to the Basics in Bulgaria - Protests in Serbia Raise Hopes of Reconciliation in Kosovo - In Post-Dayton Balkans, Change Comes Where It's Least Expected PLUS... - RUSSIA: Chernomyrdin: A Prime Minister Without Politics - VIEWPOINT: Azerbaijan: Democracy in a State of Emergency and: Reviving the Black Sea For subscription information about OMRI's new monthly, send an e-mail message to firstname.lastname@example.org ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA YELTSIN, CLINTON DISCUSS SUMMIT AGENDA. During a 27 February telephone conversation, President Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, agreed on an agenda for their scheduled 20-21 March summit in Helsinki, Russian and Western agencies reported. The meeting will focus on three broad topics--European security and NATO expansion, arms control, and bilateral economic ties. Other issues, such as the Russian Ministry of Atomic Energy's evasion of U.S. export controls on supercomputers, could also come up. The Journal of Commerce reported on 27 February that the U.S. may ask Moscow to return the IBM RS/6000 SP computer it recently bought through an unspecified European middleman (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 February 1997). The computer can perform 10,000 million theoretical operations per second (MTOPS), while U.S. regulations require individual approval of any sales to Russia of computers capable of more than 2,000 MTOPS. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN DISPARAGES THE BUDGET. In a short, four minute radio address on 28 February, President Yeltsin said he was "reluctant" to sign the budget on 25 February because he doubted the government could fulfill its conditions, ITAR-TASS. Yeltsin blamed the Duma for altering the draft budget under the influence of "populism and lobbying interests." The government is already being forced to resort to issuing state bonds and even more nebulous "state guarantees" in lieu of cash payments. For example, gold miners are complaining that the Finance Ministry is paying off its 1.8 trillion ruble ($320 million) debt for gold deliveries with state bonds, Izvestiya reported on 28 February. Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits told the Financial Times on 25 February that the government will try to limit state guarantees for commercial bank loans to 4 trillion rubles this year. -- Peter Rutland YELTSIN MEETS FAR EAST MILITARY DISTRICT COMMANDER. President Yeltsin met on 27 February with Col.-Gen. Viktor Chechevatov, commander of the Far East Military District, Russian and Western agencies reported. Chechevatov, widely rumored to be a possible successor to Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, denied afterwards that he and Yeltsin had discussed personnel issues. Unlike Rodionov, who has repeatedly warned that the Russian military is on the verge of disintegration, Chechevatov termed the current situation "serious" but added that "the troops are controllable and capable of functioning." In his 28 February radio address, Yeltsin did not mention Rodionov, who the previous day canceled a scheduled 3-5 March visit to Armenia. The president reaffirmed his commitment to introducing a professional military. While admitting that the 1997 budget provides inadequate funding for military reform, he called on the armed forces to exploit unspecified "reserves" to finance it. -- Scott Parrish UNIONS TO GO AHEAD WITH NATIONAL PROTEST DESPITE GOVERNMENT PLEA. The General Council of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) resolved on 27 February to go ahead with a national day of protest on 27 March despite a government request that the action be called off, RTR reported. An early NTV report said Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan met with FNPR Chairman Mikhail Shmakov in an attempt to halt the protest, but it later quoted Melikyan as saying their meeting was not directly linked to the day of action. After confirming that the protest would go ahead, the FNPR council appealed to President Yeltsin to sack the government because of its failure to prevent the growth in wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reported. Arrears total about 49 trillion rubles ($8.6 billion), of which 9.5 billion are owed by the state. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov told the council that the KPRF will take an active part in the protest. -- Penny Morvant MORE CRITICISM OF ORT COVERAGE. Russian Public TV (ORT) has frequently drawn criticism from various opposition politicians; during the last week, the State Duma revoked the accreditation of an ORT correspondent and representatives of the Agrarian Union complained about ORT coverage of their recent conference, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 February. But increasingly, supporters of Yeltsin are also speaking out against the network. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov recently accused ORT of carrying out a campaign to discredit him (inspired by Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii), and ORT General Director Sergei Blagovolin criticized his own network's coverage of Luzhkov, Izvestiya reported on 28 February. Izvestiya commented that Berezovskii remains the most influential figure at ORT, despite having officially left the network's board of directors in December. Blagovolin will likely be replaced soon, perhaps with ORT News Director Kseniya Ponomareva, the paper added. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN TO RESHUFFLE PUBLIC RELATIONS TEAM. President Yeltsin has decided to reshuffle his public relations team in apparent dissatisfaction with its work during his illness, Nezavisimaya gazeta wrote on 28 February. The paper also expects the presidential press service to be reorganized in the near future; presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the press service "will diminish its activity, because President Yeltsin wants to increase the number of his own meetings with journalists." The paper argued that the reshuffle in Yeltsin's public relations team may be linked to Anatolii Chubais's possible move from presidential chief of staff to first deputy prime minister (see OMRI Daily Digest 27 February 1997). Both Yastrzhembskii and Mikhail Lesin, who resigned as chief of public relations for the presidential administration this week, are close to Chubais. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski CHECHNYA ADOPTS DEATH PENALTY FOR KIDNAPPING. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 27 February decreed that kidnapping will be punishable by death in Chechnya. Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev told Kommersant-Daily that 349 people were reported to have been kidnapped in the republic between December 1994 and January 1997, although the actual number may be much higher. Two Russian TV (RTR) journalists were recently released and one Italian reporter remains in captivity. The kidnappings could be result of conflicts between Chechen field commanders, or part of an effort to show Maskhadov's inability to control the republic. The kidnappers may simply be criminals intent on extorting money. The Chechen decree came on the anniversary of Russia's admission to the Council of Europe. The council has protested Russia's failure to carry out its promise to eliminate the death penalty. Over the past year, Russia has executed more than 50 convicts, although none since August. -- Robert Orttung PRIMAKOV IN LONDON. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with British Prime Minister John Major in London on 27 February to discuss European security and bilateral ties, ITAR-TASS reported. A member of the Russian delegation told the agency that Primakov was "satisfied" with the talks, adding that Major had expressed support for concluding a NATO-Russia charter prior to the alliance's planned July summit, at which prospective East European members will be invited to begin accession talks. Primakov, however, said that the content of the charter, which Moscow insists take the form of a legally binding agreement, is more important than its timing. Noting recent critical commentary on NATO's expansion plans in the British press, ITAR-TASS noted that Primakov's visit, which includes a 28 February address to the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is aimed at influencing British public opinion on the issue. -- Scott Parrish KUZNETSOV ON AVRASYA TRIAL, WEAPONS SALES. Russian Ambassador to Turkey Vadim Kuznetsov has expressed Moscow's concerns over the trial of nine people who were allegedly involved in the highjacking of the Avrasya ferryboat in January 1996, Cumhuriyet reported on 27 February. Kuznetsov said he is disturbed at the Istanbul State Security Court's decision to try the ongoing case as "interference in the vessel's direction" rather than a terrorist act. He also said Russia is prepared to sell Turkey a wide variety of arms, including assault helicopters, missile systems, tanks, and light arms. Kuznetzov delivered his twin messages to Turkish reporters the day after Turkish Defense Minister said Ankara would look "elsewhere" for its military hardware needs if the U.S. does not annul a congressional suspension imposed on a delivery of weapons originally headed for Turkey. -- Julide Mollaoglu ANGRY MINERS STORM GOVERNMENT BUILDING IN KEMEROVO OBLAST. A group of miners from the town of Salair in Kemerovo Oblast broke into the local city administration building on 27 February to protest wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reported. The staff of the loss-making Salair lead and zinc mining enterprise have not been paid for nine months but have been able to purchase bread in exchange for tokens, according to Kommersant-Daily on 28 February. On 25 February, when bread deliveries did not arrive in the town's shops, the workers decided to march on the building; another group stormed the enterprise's accounting office and demanded a meeting with the oblast administration. Kemerovo Oblast deputy head Dmitrii Chirakadze said the authorities have sent money to Salair to cover the wages of budget workers and social benefits in an attempt to help the miners' families, but the workers have not yet been paid. -- Penny Morvant OIL PRIVATIZATION PLANS. The State Privatization Committee (GKI) has approved a plan for the privatization of Rosneft, Ekho Moskvy reported on 27 February. The state will retain 51% of the shares, 25% will be offered to Rosneft workers, and 24% will be sold in public auction, which is expected to raise 500 billion rubles ($88 million). Rosneft is about the ninth largest oil company in Russia: in 1996 produced 13.1 million metric tons of oil and refined 4.8 million tons. Rosneft plans to issue Eurobonds worth $200 million in March, Segodnya reported on 25 February. Izvestiya on 27 February wrote that the Ministry of Fuel and Energy plans to create a new oil conglomerate comprising Rosneft, Slavneft, Vostochnya Oil, and Sibur, which would control 15-20% of the oil sector. Unlike the natural gas industry, the oil industry was broken up into 16 independent companies after 1991. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA NEW CASUALTIES IN ABKHAZIA. Three Abkhaz soldiers were shot dead in Abkhazia's troubled Gali district by unidentified gunmen, according to a 25 February Sakinform report monitored by the BBC. The commander of the Russian peacekeeping forces, Maj.-Gen. Dolya Babenkov, warned that his troops will "adequately react to any terrorist acts," ITAR-TASS reported. Abkhaz Foreign Minister Konstantin Ozgan accused Georgia of starting a "terrorist war" against its breakaway republic. Igor Akhba, the Abkhaz representative to Russia, said that the recent outbreak of violence is a sign of an impending "forcible resolution" of the Abkhaz conflict by Georgia. Meanwhile, according to 26 February BGI (news agency) report monitored by BBC, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba said that the republic's parliament is currently preparing a declaration of independence from Georgia. -- Emil Danielyan ARMENIA TO SEEK A NEW KIND OF U.S. AID. During a meeting with a group of U.S. Congressmen in Washington, Armenian Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanyan called for a "new kind" of U.S. aid to Armenia, RFE/RL reported on 26 February. Arzumanyan argued that Armenia, the second largest per capita recipient of U.S. aid among the former Soviet states, has reached the point where it needs more development and technical assistance, rather than humanitarian aid, in order to attract foreign investment. A spokesman for the Armenian Embassy in Washington, Mikael Bagratuni, told RFE/RL that the Armenian delegation requested a meeting with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright but was told that she is "recuperating from her around-the-world trip." -- Emil Danielyan TURKMEN PRESIDENT IN ALMATY. Kazakstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his visiting Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurad Niyazov, discussed a wide range of regional issues, particularly the Caspian Sea, and signed a clutch of intergovernmental agreements in Almaty on 27 February, Russian and Western media reported the same day. Nazarbayev was quoted as saying that the two-day official visit represents a "breakthrough in all respects" and said the two countries have "immense" common interests, specifically pointing to their desire to export hydrocarbon reserves. Both presidents declared their belief that the Caspian should be temporarily divided into national sectors to avoid conflict while the sea's legal status is defined. The two sides also signed several agreements on cooperation, including investment protection, double taxation, and cooperation in the spheres of science, technology, health care, and tourism. -- Lowell Bezanis TAJIKISTAN UPDATE. The Tajik Presidential Guard and the United Tajik Opposition forces have been launching attacks against forces loyal to the outlaw Sadirov brothers since 25 February, Russian and Western media reported on 27 February. The Tajik government claims to have killed 21 members of the gang and driven the pro-Sadirov group out of the Obi-Garm area, while the UTO forces claim to have killed another 25. The region's difficult terrain makes it unlikely that the Sadirov band will be quickly defeated. Meanwhile, the latest round of inter-Tajik talks, begun on 26 February, continued in Moscow on 27 February and are expected to go on for another week, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. In other news, 13 metric tons of emergency medical supplies, for combating an outbreak of typhoid fever in Tajikistan reached Dushanbe from Moscow on 27 February, Russian media reported the same day. The Tajik authorities have thanked Russia for aid estimated at 4 billion rubles ($700,000). -- Lowell Bezanis CORRECTION: The OMRI Daily Digest of 26 February incorrectly reported that Topchubek Turgunaliev, the chairman of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan party, will reside in Bishkek and report monthly to the authorities. In fact, he is being sent to Penal Colony no. 34, 30 km from Bishkek, to serve his four-year sentence, RFE/RL reported on 26 February. [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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