Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 100

With a focus on the industrial turmoil shaking Russia’s coal-producing regions and the recent political unrest in the North Caucasus, President Boris Yeltsin presided yesterday over an emergency meeting of Russia’s Security Council. The situation in both trouble spots quieted over the weekend, but Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin said those at yesterday’s meeting were under no illusion that, unless urgent steps are taken to alleviate the underlying problems, tensions will boil over again. (ORT, May 25)

The Security Council blamed the government of former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for failing to carry out earlier decisions. Yesterday’s meeting “decided what can practicably be done, and dropped what were just attractively written declarations,” Kokoshin told journalists afterwards. (Itar-Tass, May 25) Prime Minister Sergei Kirienko told the meeting the government is hoping for help from the IMF and the World Bank to enable it to launch an radical restructuring of its domestic debt. Kirienko said that the government will try to replace its high-yield, ruble-denominated domestic loans with longer-term, high-currency borrowing. The IMF is expected to decide this week to release the latest $670 million tranche of its three-year loan to Russia, but Russia is believed to have asked the Fund for an additional, unspecified loan to help it retire its domestic debt. (Financial Times, May 26) The last tranche was received in January.

Russia’s disgruntled coal miners let the government off the hook over the weekend when they relaxed their blockade of key sections of Russia’s railroads. By noon on May 24, the miners had lifted their blockade of the Trans-Siberian railway and of all except one stretch of the railroad in the Komi Republic in the Far North. Kirienko told yesterday’s Security Council meeting that World Bank President James Wolfensohn promised during his recent visit to Moscow to consider an additional loan for restructuring Russia’s coal industry–to enable equipping it with safety equipment, closing unprofitable pits and paying off redundant miners. Kirienko said that problems had been accumulating in the coal industry for a long time, however, and would not be solved “with a magic wand.” One demand from the striking miners was that there should be no pit closures, but Kirienko said mines operating at a loss would have to be shut down. (RTR, May 24; ORT, May 25) Kokoshin told journalists that a special government agency for dealing with the problems of the coal industry will be created. Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembsky added that the Security Council had approved the government’s plans for tougher punishments for those found guilty of obstructing transport. He said further that the government also plans to introduce criminal penalties for enterprise directors who deliberately delay paying workers’ wages. (Itar-Tass, May 25)