|The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion. - Thomas Paine|
No. 103, Part I, 29 May 1995
We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. This part focuses on Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia, and the CIS. Part II, distributed simultaneously as a second document, covers East-Central and Southeastern Europe. Back issues of the Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through our WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/OMRI.html RUSSIA RUSSIAN REACTION TO BOSNIAN CRISIS . . . In the wake of the 25 and 26 May NATO air strikes on Bosnian Serbs and the subsequent hostage-taking by Bosnian Serbs of UN peacekeepers, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin called for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, NTV reported on 27 May. He reiterated Moscow's hope and expectation that the conflict could be resolved "at the negotiating table." Moscow, however, remains adamant that NATO force is an inappropriate tool for regional problem-solving in the Balkans. Chernomyrdin also said, "the foreign and defense ministers...[left Moscow] to talk again to the leaders and to convince them to stop the military actions between them today, so there will not be such powerful [air] strikes." On 29 May, however, Nasa Borba reported that no Russian ministers had arrived in Belgrade. The day before, Interfax reported that Defense Minister Pavel Grachev had not left Moscow and that Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev "was working in his Moscow office on Sunday." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc. . . . AND TO HOSTAGE SITUATION. Foreign Minister Kozyrev and President Boris Yeltsin are "taking measures to free UN servicemen taken hostage in Bosnia," Interfax reported on 27 May without providing details. Russian troops were among those initially detained by Bosnian Serb forces. On 28 May, however, Russian TV's "Novosti" reported that the Bosnian Serb command had released all Russian UN peacekeepers that day, but that Bosnian Serb forces are continuing to restrict the "movement of Russian peacekeepers in some parts [of Bosnia] under Bosnian Serb control." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc. CHECHEN FIGHTING CONTINUES AFTER PEACE TALKS FAIL. Russia began bombing Chechen positions less than 24 hours after ending fruitless peace talks on 25 May. Chechen soldiers reported that the village of Serzhen Yurt, which has held out against Russian attacks for two months, was surrounded 28 May, trapping an unknown number of Chechen fighters, according to AFP. The same day, Russian forces heavily bombed Vedeno, 16 km away. The Russian Defense Ministry described heavy fighting in Agishty, 5 km south of Shali, according to Interfax. ITAR-TASS reported that Russian forces have blocked off many of the roads leading to the highland areas. The agency also carried a statement from Ruslan Gelaev, Chechen commander of the southeastern front, that his troops would kill five Russian PoWs if the bombing did not stop. But Aslan Maskhadov, chief of staff of Chechnya's armed forces, told Ekho Moskvy that "we have not sunk to such bestial methods." On 27 May, President Yeltsin's chief of staff, Sergei Filatov, told a session of the Russian President's Public Chamber that the Russian president and government are open for talks with Dudaev supporters at any level, although no future talks have been scheduled. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. FEDERAL TROOPS MISSING IN ACTION IN CHECHNYA. A total of 243 Russian troops have been reported as missing in action in Chechnya, an official of the General Staff told the State Duma on 26 May. He said 90 are being held prisoner by the militants, while another 161 Russian servicemen have been released, some for ransom, Interfax reported. The official said negotiations are underway on the release of the Russian prisoners, and indicated that the militants want freedom for their members held in Russian jails. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. BODY NOT CUNY'S. A Russian doctor has confirmed that a body found in Chechnya was erroneously identified as that of Fred Cuny, a former Soros consultant who disappeared in the region in mid-April, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 May. A Moscow traumatologist connected with the Soros foundation, Vladimir Polotnyanko, examined the body and concluded it is not Cuny's because it has no steel rod in the thighbone. A representative for the Chechen separatists, Usman Imayev, said the search for Cuny would continue. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. RYBKIN FACES DIFFICULTY BUILDING LEFT-CENTER BLOC. Presidential aide Georgy Satarov said he is confident that Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin will form an electoral bloc, Russian Public Television reported on 27 May. He said Rybkin has been slow in forming the new bloc because he does not have access to the same organizational resources as Prime Minister Chernomyrdin. Obshchaya gazeta reported that although the chairmen of Russia's regional legislatures are providing support for the bloc, Rybkin has had to work in secrecy because the president's unveiling of the bloc has scared away many potential allies. Lyudmila Vartazarova, chairwoman of the Socialist Party of the Working People, confirmed that analysis by saying, "No opposition bloc can be set up by instructions from the top leader," Interfax reported on 26 May. Her party plans to maintain contact with Rybkin's bloc but is not ready to join it. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. STABLE RUSSIA NOT TO JOIN CHERNOMYRDIN BLOC. Stability leaders Alexei Alexandrov, Alexei Leushkin, and Bembya Khulkhachiev said the Stable Russia movement will campaign independently in the parliamentary elections and that the Stability deputy group is still undecided about whether to join Chernomyrdin's bloc, Interfax reported 26 May. Yeltsin first announced the formation of the Chernomyrdin and Rybkin blocs while meeting with Stability deputies. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. GOVERNMENT SUPPORT FOR NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA? The Russian government intends to provide financial support for Nezavisimaya gazeta, which recently had to close down because it could not meet its expenses, Russian media reported. Chernomyrdin essentially told Russian Public Television on 27 May that he dislikes the paper but wants it to have the right to express its point of view. Editor Vitaly Tretyakov told Russian TV on 25 May that he is ready to let the paper die with honor. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. SPIRITUAL HERITAGE HOLDS FOUNDING CONGRESS. The organization Spiritual Heritage (Duk-hovnoe nasledie) held its founding congress in Krasnogorsk, Radio Mayak reported on 27 May. Alexei Pod-berezkin, chairman of the new organization, said its purpose is to bring together all those who support a strong state. The group's ruling body includes Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist Party of Russia, and Valery Vorotnikov, former deputy chairman of the Soviet KGB and now the director of a department in the MOST group. The organization will help the Communist Party during the elections. More than 300 delegates from 50 regions of Russia attended the congress. The group's name refers to the state ideology that members claim died with the USSR, Russian Public Television reported. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc. EARTHQUAKE HITS SAKHALIN. An earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale devastated northern Sakhalin on 27 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. The quake flattened the oil town of Neftegorsk, trapping up to 3,000 people; 300 deaths were officially confirmed by the morning of 29 May. Japan offered to send help to the region, but First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, in charge of the relief operation, was quoted by Reuters as saying Russia did not need foreign aid. He added that he had asked the Finance Ministry for 30 billion rubles to cover the initial costs of the relief effort. Viktor Gurevich, the deputy governor of Sakhalin Oblast, rejected claims that the quake could cause an ecological catastrophe. A local oil official had earlier reported more than 15 ruptures along a 90 km stretch of oil pipeline on the island and the destruction of all oil wells in the affected region. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. YELTSIN VETOES LAW ON UNIONS. President Yeltsin has rejected the Law on Trade Unions, Their Rights, and Guarantees, passed by the Duma on 14 April, according to Segodnya on 27 May. In a letter to Duma Speaker Rybkin, Yeltsin said the law contravened the constitution, Civil Code, and international accords signed by Russia. Alexei Surikov, first deputy head of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), said he did not understand the president's decision, contending that "such generalities" can be applied to any law. The head of the Union of Workers of the Agroindustrial Complex called the veto a serious mistake and warned that it would set the unions against the president in the election campaign. In early May, Russia's free trade unions picketed the Federation Council to protest the draft law, arguing that it would give the FNPR a monopoly. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. DUMA RAISES MINIMUM PENSION. On 26 May, the parliament's lower house voted to increase the minimum pension to 52,486 rubles ($10.46) a month as of 1 June, Segodnya reported on 27 May. The government opposes the move, arguing that pensions should not be increased more than once every three months. Pensions were raised from 34,440 rubles ($6.86) a month to 43,739 rubles ($8.72) on 1 May. A government spokesman also said the Pension Fund did not have the resources to cover such a hike, that the projected increase exceeded the rate of inflation, and that it would cause delays in the payment of pensions. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc. TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA UN THREATENS TO WITHDRAW MISSION FROM TAJIKISTAN. UN envoy, Ramiro Piriz Ballon, warned that the UN might not extend the mandate of its mission in Tajikistan, saying there is "no agreement between the two sides on any constructive step." The peace talks have gone on for a week now with the opposition proposing to share power with the Tajik government, Interfax reported. The Tajik government representatives at the talks in Almaty flatly refused to accept such a deal. Tajik First Deputy Prime Minister Makhmadsaid Ubaidullaiyev noted that 88% of the voters in last November's referendum voted for the present constitution. A UN proposal to set up a consultative committee on drafting constitutional changes also met with little success, according to Reuters. The UN envoy said, "The Security Council is very clear: if there is no progress, we will end our presence in Tajikistan," AFP reported. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc. CIS LITTLE PROGRESS AT CIS TALKS IN MINSK. The CIS made little progress toward integration at its 26 May summit in Minsk, international agencies reported. There was considerable disagreement among member states on an interstate currency committee for settling mutual accounts, a human rights convention, and collective security. However, Yeltsin cited the customs union with Belarus as one concrete result of the summit. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin called the customs treaty "a breakthrough" and indicated that Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who did not attend the summit because of health reasons, had confirmed that Kaz-akhstan would also join the union. In addition, Russia, Belarus, Kaz-akhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, Georgia, and Tajikistan tentatively agreed to a collective security arrangement which could place Russian troops on their outer borders. The summit also extended the peacekeeping mandates in Tajikistan and Abkhazia, and a "comprehensive plan" was adopted for settling the conflict in Tajikistan. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma continued to express skepticism about the organization's future. He said the CIS has yet to register economic results. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc. KARIMOV'S CRITIQUE OF CIS SUMMIT. Commenting on the results of the CIS summit in Minsk, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said "the future of the CIS countries depends on Russia," Interfax reported on 28 May. Speaking on Uzbek TV, he noted that although the CIS was conceived as an equitable alliance of independent states, only those initiatives advanced by Russia are carried out. Karimov stressed the need for Russia to "understand" that all CIS members have equal rights and noted that the CIS lacked a mechanism for implementing adopted documents, which he said number more than 500. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc. MISSILE CHIEF UPDATES WEAPONS IN NEAR ABROAD. Col. Gen. Viktor Yasin, head of Russia's Strategic Missile Troops, said on 26 May that Russia still has operational control of 93 strategic missiles in Ukraine and 18 in Belarus. Interfax quoted him as saying his command has good relations with the Ukrainian General Staff. Yasin said the warheads on the missiles in Ukraine would be destroyed by June 1996, while those in Belarus would be returned to Russia this year. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc. [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet Union and East-Central and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. The Daily Digest is distributed electronically via the OMRI-L list. To subscribe, send "SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L YourFirstName YourLastName" (without the quotation marks and inserting your name where shown) to LISTSERV@UBVM.CC.BUFFALO.EDU No subject line or other text should be included. To receive the OMRI Daily Digest by mail or fax, please direct inquiries to OMRI Publications, Na Strzi 63, 140 62 Prague 4, Czech Republic; or electronically to OMRIPUB@OMRI.CZ Tel.: (42-2) 6114 2114; fax: (42-2) 426 396 OMRI also publishes the biweekly journal Transition, which contains expanded analysis of many of the topics in the Daily Digest. For Transition subscription information send an e-mail to TRANSITION@OMRI.CZ Copyright (c) Open Media Research Institute, Inc. 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