WHAT DO RUSSIANS THINK ABOUT FREEDOM OF SPEECH?
Profil, No. 5, February, 2001, p. 2
The ROMIR agency recently did a poll on freedom of speech. According to the poll, 57% of respondents think Russia should have some independent media (not controlled by the state); 34% of respondents are against this; and 9% of respondents said they did not care.
The respondents were also asked: “Do you think television, radio, and the print media have enough freedom?” Forty-two percent of respondents said they think there is enough freedom, 18% said there is more than enough; and 32% of respondents believe that there is not enough media freedom. Overall, 57% of respondents believe that the federal government does want to keep the NTV television network independent; while 34% think the government is lying.
BEREZOVSKY’S GROUP CONTROLS THE RUSSIAN CHEMICAL INDUSTRY?
Profil, No. 5, February, 2001, p. 15
To all appearances, the Volgograd Khimprom enterprise is slowly but surely becoming the property of Boris Berezovsky’s closest partners. By early February, over 50% of shares in this leader of the chemical industry were held by Oleg Mitvol and affiliated companies. Previously, it had been considered that Mitvol represents Berezovsky’s interests in Russia only in the publishing business. As it turns out, that was wrong.
Last financial year the Volgograd Khimprom enterprise made a net profit of over 200 million rubles.
The profits of the Chuvashia branch of the Volgograd enterprise, which produces over 300 kinds of unique products, are even more attractive. Mitvol now owns a 15% stake in this enterprise.
Thus, Berezovsky’s group is now in control of Russia’s sole producer of yellow phosphorus, the Togliatti Fosfor enterprise.
Finansovaya Rossia, No. 5, February, 2001, p. 5
Among all the numerous accusations against Russia of failing to meet its debt obligations to the West, a very significant financial resource of Russia has somehow been forgotten: the debts owed to Russia by developing countries and former Soviet republics.
According to the Finance Ministry, the Ministry of Economic Development, and Vnesheconombank, by mid-February 2001 these debts amounted to $87 billion (according to officially recognized promissory notes). The total amount of debts owed to Russia is estimated at $150 billion. The debts were created through “ideological” supplies of armaments, military-industrial technologies and consumer products to these countries from the 1950s to the early 1980s.
Counting the debts of CIS countries to Russia, this sum increases to more than $160 billion. Real repayments which have already been factored into the 2001 budget do not exceed $200 million on average.
India, Bangladesh, Mongolia, Nepal, Angola, Algeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Ethiopia, Guinea, Vietnam, Tanzania, Nicaragua, and Peru are repaying their debts. But there are over 70 developing countries which own money to Russia.
According to analysts, over half of the officially recognized debts, or $87 billion, can be successfully repaid through various plans, including giving concessions, supply of goods and services, converting some of the debts into investment in Russia, and securities. These plans work with the countries named above: on average, these states pay no more than 35% in cash.
The debts of Libya and Iraq can be sorted out in accordance with the same plans: their officially recognized debts to the USSR/Russia total $10 billion, of which $7 billion is owned by Iraq.
However, Russia’s major debtors are Cuba and North Korea: they owe $15 billion and $9 billion respectively. However, their officially recognized debts amount to barely 20-25% of these sums. Still, in 2000, Havana and Pyongyang officially agreed to start repaying their debts in the near future, with 65% of repayments in non-monetary form.
A BRIDGE BETWEEN THE CRIMEA AND MOSCOW
Finansovaya Rossia, No. 5, February, 2001, p. 3
During their talks in Dnepropetrovsk last week, the Russian and Ukrainian leaders approved the idea of the Moscow Mayor’s Office and the Crimean parliament on building a multi-level and multi-functional transport corridor across the Kerch Straits and Russia’s Kuban region.
Since the break-up of the USSR, the Kerch Straits have been an object of constant dispute. State borders and similar issues have not been sorted out here.
Earlier this week, President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who described the prospects of building a bridge as quite realistic, and said that the governments of the Russian southern regions and the Crimea are extremely interested in the project. According to preliminary plans, work on the bridge will start in May this year, and it will be completed by 2005.
According to the Moscow Mayor’s Office, this will be a road and rail bridge. It will also carry pipelines for oil and gas, as well as a water pipeline from the Taman district of the Krasnodar territory.
According to preliminary calculations, the cost of the bridge is likely to be between $500 million and $1 billion. According to previous agreements, also preliminary, between Luzhkov and Leonid Grach, chair of the Crimean Supreme Council, a joint stock company will be established for building the Kerch bridge; Moscow will own 51%, the Crimean government will own 25%, and the government of the Krasnodar territory will own 24%.
GETTING ALONG WITH MIGRANTS FROM CHINA
Argumenty i Fakty, No. 7, February, 2001, p. 8
According to various estimates, there are between 200,000 and 5 million Chinese citizens living in Russia. Specialists claim that without strict state control immigration from China will become Russia’s major geopolitical problem in the new century. Indeed, there are only about 7 million people in the Russian Far East, whereas the population of the neighboring Chinese provinces exceeds 200 million, of whom 25 million are unemployed.
Russia’s demand for cheap labor is increasing. On the one hand, there are signs of future economic growth, while on the other, the number of able-bodied citizens is decreasing; according to demographic forecasts, by 2015 the number of working-age Russians will have decreased by 14%. UN experts say that by 2050 the population of Russia will be down to 130 million people. In this situation, Russia must accept no fewer than 500,000 labor migrants per year in order to restore the national economy.
As for the Russian Far East, this vast region is already on the brink of a demographic catastrophe: in the past decade its population has declined by nearly a million.
HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS AGAINST THE WAR IN CHECHNYA
Novye Izvestia, February 17, 2001, p. 2
Russian human rights groups, supported by the French Committee for Chechnya, have declared a campaign against the war in Chechnya. The first protest action of this campaign will be a demonstration on Pushkin Square in Moscow on Thursday. The goal of this campaign is to stop the war in Chechnya through peace negotiations.
This decision was made at the end of January at the human rights conference in in Moscow. No progress has been made in the war in Chechnya, although it has already lasted for a year and a half. Human rights are indiscriminately violated there.
According to the Memorial human rights group, which is constantly monitoring the situation in Chechnya and Ingushetia, murders, illegal detentions, torture of those detained, looting, and abductions committed by Russian soldiers in Chechnya have not ceased.
The Committees of Soldiers’ Mothers are concerned about the fate of soldiers serving in Chechnya. Valentina Melnikova, head of the Union of Soldiers’ Mothers’ Committees, says, “Tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of young soldiers come home from military service morally and psychologically crippled. The Chechnya syndrome is leading to a whole generation of young invalids appearing in Russia.”
DUMA YIELDS TO THE CABINET
Izvestia, February 17, 2001, pp. 1, 2
At a meeting of the Duma Budget Committee on February 16, deputies and the Cabinet tried to find money for debt payments to the Paris Club. At the very last moment the Duma and the Cabinet came to an agreement. The Duma will not have to alter the basic parameters of the 2001 budget. This means that the Cabinet has won.
As a result, the first 41 billion rubles of additional revenues will be spent on Russia’s foreign debts. The remaining additional revenues will be divided into two parts: 50% will be spent on debt payments, and 50% on primary budget items.
To all appearances, both parties are satisfied with this decision. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin said, “The main point is that the problem of meeting debt obligations will be resolved. At the same time we realize that the government should show the voters that the major part of additional revenues will be spent on social programs. That is why the Cabinet has consented to distribute part of extra-budget revenues among budget items.” Chairman of the Duma Budget Committee Alexander Zhukov does not rule out that the Cabinet’s draft amendments will be considered on Wednesday by the Duma along with the compromise version.
EVERYONE WILL HAVE TO PAY FOR PRIMORYE
Segodnya, February 17, 2001, p. 1
On February 16, in Tomsk, President Putin held a meeting devoted to problems related to public utilities. The president said at the meeting, “When the emergencies minister has to intervene to regulate the situation at a boiler-house in a remote town, it means the situation has become the state’s problem. And it is not only the managerial incompetence of some officials that has led to this situation.” Thus, the president has apparently come to the conclusion that not only regional authorities of Primorye (Maritime territory, Russian Far East) are to blame for the energy crisis there.
According to the president, about 60% of infrastructure in Russia is worn out. This is due to a constant shortage of money. Citizens now have to pay only 80% of the actual cost of public utilities. President Putin announced that it is time to make a transition to 100% payment for public utilities. However, he added that this applies only to citizens with high incomes.
FOREIGN MINISTER OPTIMISTIC ON RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN RELATIONS
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 17, 2001, p. 2
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov has met with his Ukrainian counterpart Anatoly Zdenko and leaders of Ukrainian border regions. After the meeting he held a press conference, at which he spoke about opportunities for development of cooperation in arms sales between Russia and Ukraine. According to the Russian foreign minister, the current level of Russian-Ukrainian relations is favorable for development of contacts in all spheres, on economically rational and mutually beneficial terms.
Igor Ivanov also noted that the negotiations between Russia and Ukraine on demarcation of state borders are approaching completion. At the same time, he stressed that talks on the legal status of the Azov Sea and the Kerch Straits will take somewhat longer.
An intergovernmental agreement on regulation of migration and the rights of migrants was signed at the meeting. Igor Ivanov said that the agreement is aimed at simplifying the procedure of returning people to their motherland and finding employment for them.
The Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers also decided to propose to Vladimir Putin and Leonid Kuchma that a Russian-Ukrainian business forum should be held at the end of the year.
TOPOL MISSILE TESTED AGAIN
Nezavisimaya Gazeta, February 17, 2001, p. 2
On February 16, an RS-12M (Topol) intercontinental ballistic missile was launched from the Plesetsk space center. The missile reached its target at the Kura testing ground on the Kamchatka Peninsula. This was the 77th launch of this type of missile. It was first tested on February 8, 1983. The Strategic Missile Forces have demonstrated the reliability of this system, although this missile has been in use for 150% of its guaranteed service lifetime.
According to START I, Moscow presents a memorandum of mutual understanding each year. The latest memorandum states that Russia has 360 Topol missiles. This type of missile is the most numerous in the Strategic Missile Forces. According to our sources, producers of this missile have proposed to update them. However, apparently this will not be done, since according to the Armed Forces reform plan proposed by Chief of the General Staff General Anatoly Kvashnin, Topol missiles are to be taken out of service within the next few years.
The launch on February 16 was the final event of the command-staff training exercises conducted by the Russian Armed Forces on February 13-16. It is possible that flights by long-range aviation in the east and west of the Russian Federation were also part of these exercises.
Judging by the scale of the exercises, the Russian military was practising action in a large-scale conflict developing into a nuclear war. It is worth noting that very little information about the script and aims of these exercises has been published.