|If you are not allowed to laugh in heaven, I don't want to go there. - Martin Luther|
No. 49, Part I, 11 March 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 GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING BEGINS. President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree on 11 March instructing Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to suggest within one week which deputy prime ministers and ministers should be sacked, and who should replace them, ITAR-TASS reported. The number of first deputy prime ministers will be reduced from four to one (Anatolii Chubais, who was appointed on 7 March). The number of deputy prime ministers -- currently, nine -- will also be reduced. Those government members whose ministries or agencies are to be restructured or eliminated must resign. -- Laura Belin KULIKOV ON THE OFFENSIVE . . . First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Kulikov published an open letter on 10 March in which he replied to charges leveled by David Reuben, chairman of Trans-World Metals, in an open letter carried by Western newspapers on 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Reuben accused Kulikov of using corruption charges and a media smear campaign to try to renationalize aluminum plants which had partial foreign ownership. Kulikov said that he was neither opposed to foreign ownership nor private property, but was investigating accusations of money-laundering and other possible crimes "in cooperation with Interpol and U.S., Canadian, and British law enforcement agencies." Kulikov said the tax advantages enjoyed by foreign companies on the Russian market, such as VAT exemption on alumina imports, "condemn tens of thousands of Russian citizens involved in alumina production to poverty and deprivation." -- Peter Rutland . . . BACKGROUND TO KULIKOV-REUBEN EXCHANGE. Critics accuse Kulikov of dredging up old charges from 1994 in a bid to discredit the political camp of Aleksandr Korzhakov and Oleg Soskovets, who supervised the privatization of the aluminum industry, as noted in Itogi on 4 March. Others accuse the UK-based Trans-World Metals of illegally moving profits out of Russia through "transfer pricing" in the import and export of aluminum, as argued in Nezavisimaya gazeta of 6 March. Russian aluminum exports totaled some $3.9 billion last year. The situation is complicated by the fact that other Western investors are trying to dislodge Trans-World Metals from their dominant position on the Russian market (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 March 1997). The Reuben letter has given Kulikov an opportunity to portray himself as a defender of market reform in a situation where, in Kulikov's words, "mafia-like structures are monopolizing and destroying the market." -- Peter Rutland CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTRY: "NO BOMB ATTACK AGAINST BASAEV." A Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman said on 10 March that, contrary to Russian media reports, an explosion on 9 March close to the Grozny headquarters of field commander Shamil Basaev was caused by the accidental detonation of a small quantity of explosive material and not by a bomb, according to Reuters. Also on 10 March, Radio Rossii reported that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has issued two decrees suspending broadcasting by private TV companies, allegedly in order to prevent the spread of pornography and the moral degradation of youth, and introducing compulsory licenses for broadcast media outlets. -- Liz Fuller NATO-RUSSIA UPDATE. Citing anonymous NATO diplomats, Reuters reported on 10 March that Russia and NATO are edging toward a deal under which Moscow will accept a limited eastward expansion of the alliance. The main sticking point in the ongoing talks between Moscow and NATO is reportedly Russian insistence that no NATO military installations be constructed on the territory of new members, a condition the alliance refuses to accept. However, echoing the tone of a report issued the same day by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Western diplomats contended that Moscow has accepted expansion, but is simply angling for the best possible deal. After NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana left Moscow for a tour of Central Asia, NATO Assistant Secretary-General Gebhart von Moltke remained behind to continue negotiations on the text of the proposed Russia-NATO charter. -- Scott Parrish IZVESTIYA: MILITARY HAS RESERVES FOR REFORM. Citing documents it received from anonymous military officers, Izvestiya on 11 March argued that the military wastes hundreds of millions of rubles annually because of inefficient duplication of weapons systems, training facilities, and command staff. By eliminating such duplication, the paper said, the military could find resources to launch a serious reform program without an increase in the military budget. For example, the paper attacked the current policy of maintaining separate Air Defense Forces and Air Defense Forces of the Ground Troops, each with its own command structures, incompatible weapons systems, independent weapons development and procurement, and training facilities. It blamed duplication on the narrow bureaucratic interests of the military leadership, implicitly criticizing Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who contends the military budget must be increased if reform is to proceed. -- Scott Parrish STRATEGIC ROCKET FORCES COMMANDER ON START II. In an interview published in the 10-16 March edition of the weekly Interfaks-AiF, the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Army General Igor Sergeev, said that despite its shortcomings "there is no alternative" to ratifying the START II arms control treaty. The 1993 treaty has been ratified by the U.S. Senate, but not by either house of the Russian assembly, both of which must approve it before it can enter into force. Sergeev endorsed the idea of extending the term for implementing the treaty from 2003 to 2006 or 2007. Some of the treaty's Russian opponents have argued that it would be too expensive to implement in just a few years. Sergeev also linked ratification of START II with strict American adherence to the 1972 ABM treaty. Moscow and Washington have a long-standing disagreement over the interpretation of that treaty. -- Scott Parrish GERMAN TOXIC WASTE INTERCEPTED. A five-truck convoy carrying 108 metric tons of liquid sodium cyanide was intercepted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Smolensk region on 11 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The convoy had originated in Germany and claimed to be en route to Tajikistan, although the report suggested its actual destination was somewhere in Russia. It had taken back roads to avoid customs posts on the Russo-Belarusian border and had penetrated 120 kilometers into Russia. The trucks were returned to Belarus. -- Peter Rutland PRESIDENTIAL DECREE ISSUED ON UDMURTIYA. A presidential decree signed on 10 March orders the State Council of the Republic of Udmurtiya to abide by a 24 January Constitutional Court ruling, which struck down portions of the April 1996 Udmurt law on state institutions. The decree instructs local legislatures that were disbanded and heads of local administration who were forced to resign after April 1996 to resume their duties, ITAR- TASS reported. The decree also declares invalid organs of government formed and acts of the State Council adopted on the basis of the Udmurt law. Russia's Procurator General is instructed to hold Udmurt officials legally responsible if they do not implement the Constitutional Court decision. The refusal of the State Council to abide by the court ruling is a prime example of what concerned federal officials have called "legal separatism" in the Russian regions. -- Laura Belin CORRUPTION IN THE TAX POLICE. Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Shlyk, the head of the department of internal security in the Federal Tax Police Service (FSNP), complained in an interview that although "one hears about the problem of corrupt officials all the time" from politicians, there is still no law on corruption, nor an independent agency to deal with it, Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie reported in its 7 March issue. Shlyk, a 25-year KGB veteran, noted that the Duma has passed three anti- corruption bills, but none of them made it into law - the last was vetoed by President Yeltsin in 1995. The FSNP is responsible for rooting out corruption in the State Tax Service and Tax Inspectorate. In 1996 101 tax officials were convicted of corruption, up from 54 in 1995, and including three district tax inspectorate directors. Shlyk noted that criminal gangs are making determined efforts to penetrate the tax police, even trying to recruit cadets at their academy. -- Peter Rutland ILYUSHIN BLASTS REGIONS FOR PENSION ARREARS. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin criticized regional authorities for reducing their contributions to the state Pension Fund recently by as much as 40-50%, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 March. The largest reductions were made by Kareliya, Khakassiya, Buryatiya, Yakutiya (Sakha), the Altai and Krasnoyarsk krais, and the Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Kurgan, Kemerovo, Magadan, Sakhalin, Sverdlovsk, and Tyumen oblasts. The fund has received only 11 trillion rubles ($1.93 billion) of the expected 12.5 trillion rubles for current pension payments. Ilyushin noted that each time the federal government steps in to bail out the Pension Fund and promises to pay overdue pensions, the regions allow their arrears to the fund to rise. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA SARKISYAN RESIGNATION UPDATE. Armenian presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian told journalists on 10 March that President Levon Ter- Petrossyan would not yet accept the resignation, tendered on 6 March, of Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan, ITAR-TASS reported. Sarkisyan, who is recuperating from surgery in London, is reportedly determined to step down as he considers that the state of his health precludes his continuing to discharge his duties. -- Liz Fuller SHEVARDNADZE ON RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN RELATIONS. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in his regular Monday radio broadcast on 10 March, said that relations with Russia "remain, as before, the key question for Georgian foreign policy," ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze professed incomprehension at Russian opposition to the burgeoning Uzbekistan- Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine axis, arguing that cooperation between CIS member states benefits the CIS as a whole. He also pleaded yet again that the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia, which expired on 31 January and is due to be renewed at the CIS summit later this month, should be amended to allow the force's deployment throughout Gali raion, home of many of the ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1993, and as far north as the river Galidzga. -- Liz Fuller TALIBAN ACCUSES TAJIKISTAN OF MEDDLING. The Taliban religious movement in Afghanistan sent a note to the UN complaining of rival military factions using bases in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 10 March. According to the Taliban, Afghan Gen. Ahmad Shah Masoud, the right-hand man of ousted President Burhanaddin Rabbani, has established a safe haven at the southern Tajik city of Kulyab. The Taliban claim helicopters ferry weapons from this base into Afghanistan to help in the fight against Taliban forces which are slowly moving northward. According to a 10 March broadcast from the Kabul Voice of Radio Shari'a, Tajikistan is working in coordination with the Russian Federation "for the purpose of intensification of the war against the Islamic State of Afghanistan." Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov dismissed the allegations, saying the government of Tajikistan has never allowed foreign forces to use its country as a base. -- Bruce Pannier RED CROSS RETURNS TO TAJIKISTAN. Just over one month after the organization pulled out most of its workers from the country, the Red Cross began operations in Tajikistan again, according to a 10 March report from ITAR-TASS. Workers delivered food to people in the Vanch Valley and set out for the Tavil-Dara area, the scene of intense fighting during most of 1996. The Red Cross announced its temporary departure in early February when two of its employees were taken hostage along with UN workers and Russian journalists. -- Bruce Pannier KAZAKSTANI PRIME MINISTER FACES DEADLINE. President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 10 March issued a deadline for Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin to solve the wage and pension arrears problem, RFE/RL and Reuters reported. "I give April 10 as the deadline," Nazarbayev said at a meeting of the government; by then Kazhegeldin must "tell how he will resolve the problem--or leave." Arrears amount to well over $500 million, which Nazarbayev feels is contributing to his unpopularity. Nazarbayev also promoted the head of the Semipalatinsk region, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, to the new post of head of the Agency for Control of Strategic Resources. Zhakiyanov will keep track of trade in oil, grain, ferrous and non- ferrous metals, and the pipeline network. In another appointment, former oil and gas minister Nurlan Balgimbayev now heads the new state Kazak Oil company. Both Balgimbayev and Zhakiyanov are seen as opponents of Kazhegeldin. -- Bruce Pannier RESULTS IN GEHRING MURDER INVESTIGATION. Russia's NTV on 10 March released the details of the investigation of the murder of American journalist Chris Gehring in the Kazakstani capital Almaty on 8 January (see OMRI Daily Digest ,10 January 1997). The report claimed the perpetrators made a video confession of the crime. The three men said they stole Gehring's key and entered his apartment looking for hard currency. When they were unable to find any money they decided to wait for Gehring to return. They admitted to torturing Gehring, tying him up and cutting his throat, then stealing a telephone answering machine and computer. One of the criminals was apprehended as he attempted to sell the answering machine. Gehring was working for Internews, helping independent media in Central Asia. -- Bruce Pannier TURKMENISTAN'S OIL AND GAS LAW. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed what was termed the Republican Law on Hydrocarbon Resources on 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The document defines the republic's hydrocarbon resources as national property; the right to own and manage them belongs to the Cabinet of Ministers. It also recognizes the validity of contracts for production sharing, defines ownership rights for trunk pipelines, and sets out financial and tax regulations, according to a BBC-monitored Turkmen Television report. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle *^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^! What's in Store for the Magazine Transition We've learned much in the last two years about what sort of magazine Transition can be and what role it should play in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Of greatest help in this process has been the advice of readers. Among some of the desired changes are for Transition to offer even more articles by writers in the region - lively opinion pieces as well as fact-filled analysis and expanded departments. Accordingly, Transition will be substantially restructured and relaunched as a monthly with the issue dated June 1997. The last biweekly issue will be 6 April, followed by a brief hiatus. All existing subscriptions will be honored and extended according to the new monthly frequency, which is priced at $65 for 12 issues. As before, we offer a substantial discount for readers in and of the countries we cover (apply to the contacts listed below for more information). For more information, contact the OMRI Marketing Department at tel. (420-2) 6114 2114, fax (420-2) 6114 3181; email: transition-DD@omri.cz *^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^!*^! ------------------------------------------------------------------------ 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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