|When in doubt, tell the truth. - Mark Twain|
No. 12, Part I, 17 January 1996
We welcome you to Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. This part focuses on Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II, distributed simultaneously as a second document, covers Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Back issues of the Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through our WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^TODAY'S TOP STORY^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ PRO-CHECHEN FIGHTERS SEIZE TURKISH FERRY. A group of gunmen of Caucasian origin seized a ferry in the northeastern Turkish port of Trabzon on 16 January, international media reported. The Panama-registered ferry, the "Eurasia," was about to depart for the Russian port of Sochi with 165 passengers and crew when it was seized. In an interview with Turkish television, the leader of the group, identified as Muhammed Tokcan, threatened to blow up the ship if Russian forces did not cease their attacks against his "Chechen brothers" in Pervomaiskoe. According to preliminary reports, about 95 passengers on the ferry are Russian citizens. The Russian Foreign Ministry condemned the attack as an "ignoble act of terror" and stressed that Turkish and Russian officials are cooperating to resolve the situation. The ferry is currently sailing toward Istanbul, trailed by Turkish patrol ships. -- Scott Parrish ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA ANATOLII CHUBAIS RESIGNS. First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais resigned from the Russian government on 16 January, after his work as the chief coordinator of the government's economic policy had been criticized by President Yeltsin. The 40-year-old Chubais was appointed to head the State Privatization Committee in November 1991, becoming Deputy Prime Minister in June 1992 and First Deputy in November 1994. He was the last senior government official to survive from the reform team of Yegor Gaidar. His resignation came the same day that an IMF team arrived in Moscow to negotiate a new $9 billion, three-year Extended Fund Facility. -- Peter Rutland REASONS BEHIND CHUBAIS DISMISSAL. Presidential aide Aleksandr Livshits said that Yeltsin blamed Chubais for the government's failure to pay wages and pensions on time, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. On 16 January Russian TV showed Yeltsin upbraiding Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on this issue. Another factor, according to Livshits, was the poor organization of the recent loan/share auctions, in which insider banks acquired large stakes in leading firms. Livshits told Western journalists that "we cannot follow a policy of financial stabilization for ever. We must move on to a policy of growth, and (Chubais' departure) is the first step towards such a policy." Last month, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for the removal of Chubais, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakrai. All three have now left the government. -- Peter Rutland PERVOMAISKOE FIGHTING CONTINUES. Russian troops continued to meet heavy resistance from the Chechen fighters barricaded in Pervomaiskoe, Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 December. Although the Federal Security Service (FSB) told NTV that 29 hostages had now been freed, 70- 100 remain captive in the center of the blockaded village. According to military spokesmen, five federal servicemen have been killed and at least 40 wounded, while Chechen losses number more than 100. NTV ridiculed these figures, saying it was impossible that the well-prepared and entrenched Chechen fighters should suffer heavier losses than the attacking forces. Some Russian soldiers interviewed by Izvestiya and NTV criticized the coordination of the assault, in which Russian helicopters mistakenly fired on their own forces. Meanwhile, rescued hostages refuted earlier reports that the Chechen fighters had executed some of the hostages, which the Russian government has used to justify the storming of the village. -- Scott Parrish GROZNY POWER WORKERS STILL MISSING. An investigation into the disappearance of a group of Russian workers from a suburban Grozny power plant has concluded that 29 workers, mostly specialists from Rostov oblast who were repairing the plant's equipment, has so far failed to determine their whereabouts, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. A spokesman from the plant said the workers had been kidnapped by masked gunmen at about 4 am on 16 January, and refuted rumors that they might have simply left in protest over a wage dispute. No one has taken responsibility for the kidnapping, however, and Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev has suggested that ordinary criminals may simply be holding them for ransom, a crime he said had become commonplace in Chechnya. According to NTV of 17 January, another group of 29 Russian construction workers were kidnapped in Achkhoi-Martan in the last week. -- Scott Parrish PRESS CRACKDOWN NEAR PERVOMAISKOE. Cordons were put up 15 km away from Pervomaiskoe on 16 January and journalists were barred from approaching the village, leaving the media in an "information vacuum," Russian TV reported. One reporter said his car had been fired upon by Russian soldiers, and an ABC cameraman and a Christian Science Monitor reporter were bitten by a guard dog at another checkpoint. AFP reported that two Russian journalists working for the UK television company WTN, who were trapped in Pervomaiskoe when the attack started, had their equipment confiscated by Russian soldiers after they were released. The 17 January issue of Izvestiya complained of "unprecedented" official attempts to manipulate information on the crisis. The paper said journalists have been denied free access to the released hostages. Izvestiya 's correspondent in Pervomaiskoe, Valerii Yarov, has not been heard from in four days. -- Laura Belin MOUNTING CRITICISM OF YELTSIN'S CHECHNYA POLICY. As the Pervomaiskoe operation drags on, there is increasing criticism of Yeltsin's policy towards Chechnya. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov advised President Boris Yeltsin not to seek a second term and said that the use of force to save the hostages in Pervomaiskoe would not help him because his "policy is completely bankrupt and has failed," Interfax reported on 16 January. Retired General Boris Gromov, newly elected to the Duma, said, "I think the decision makers in the operation just have no brains." Ingush President Ruslan Aushev argued that "the closer we get to the [presidential] elections the worse the situation will get. Every side will be trying to take advantage . . . Ingushetiya will be next after Dagestan, then Stavropol and Krasnodar," Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 15 January. Bashkortostan's president, Murtasa Rakhimov, said Russia "should not have tried to hold on to Chechnya by force and organize a mass grave there as an example," AFP reported 17 January. -- Peter Rutland and Robert Orttung DUMA OPENS WITH INCONCLUSIVE BATTLE FOR SPEAKERSHIP. In a 16 January opening session that stretched late into the night, the State Duma tried to elect a new speaker, but no candidate won the 226 votes necessary, Russian media reported. In the first poll, Communist Gennadii Seleznev won 216 votes; former Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin, who was supported by Our Home Is Russia (NDR), received 166; and Yabloko's Vladimir Lukin won 56. Deputies from Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR) and NDR refused to take part in another round of voting that night. The second round was held without them, but again failed to produce a winner. Seleznev won 219 votes while Rybkin dropped to 51, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung NEW DUMA CREATES STRANGE BEDFELLOWS. In the new Duma, the Communists and Yabloko seem to have found common ground, while Our Home Is Russia and Zhirinovsky appear to be pursuing similar goals. Some members of Yabloko and deputies from NDR and the LDPR have accused Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii of seeking an alliance with Zyuganov to ensure a larger number of committee chairmanships. Both leaders have strongly denounced the government's use of force in Dagestan and have continued talks over committee positions even after other factions have walked out. Yavlinskii denied the accusations and blamed them on an anti-Yabloko campaign in the media, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. The LDPR and NDR have taken a pro-government line over the Pervomaiskoe crisis and have cooperated in preventing the election of a Communist speaker. -- Robert Orttung DUMA REGISTERS FACTIONS. The new State Duma registered seven factions during its opening session on 16 January, ITAR-TASS reported. They are the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Gennadii Zyuganov), with 149 members; Our Home Is Russia (Sergei Belyaev, 55; Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (Vladimir Zhirinovsky), 51; Yabloko (Grigorii Yavlinskii), 46; Russian Regions (Ramazan Abdulatipov and Artur Chilingarov), 42; Popular Power (Nikolai Ryzhkov), 37; and the Agrarians (Nikolai Kharitonov), 35. -- Robert Orttung PORTRAIT OF THE NEW DUMA. The new 450-member Duma includes 157 former members of the old Duma and 15 former members of the Federation Council, Rossiiskie vesti reported on 16 January. The lower house now includes 46 women, down from 58 in the last Duma. A total of 29% of the members are from Moscow. The average age is 47. The Duma's membership consists of 219 deputies who have worked in the legislative branch at various levels, 52 previously employed in executive branch positions, 76 businessmen, 154 from various branches of industry, 30 activists in social organizations, and 29 writers, artists, and actors. -- Robert Orttung YELTSIN MEETS KUCHMA. At a 16 January Moscow working meeting to discuss bilateral ties, President Boris Yeltsin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kuchma, signed an agreement creating a new joint economic cooperation commission to be headed by each country's prime minister, Russian and Western agencies reported. Despite bilateral difficulties, Russia remains Ukraine's largest trade partner, accounting for 43% of its exports and more than half its imports in 1995. Yeltsin and Kuchma pledged to "rapidly" solve the lingering Black Sea Fleet problem and to conclude the long-delayed Russian-Ukrainian friendship treaty, although they did not set a date for its signing. -- Scott Parrish CRIME, FIRE FIGURES RELEASED. According to Igor Khromov, the first deputy head of the Interior Ministry's Main Administration for Criminal Investigations, 31,500 murders and attempted murders were recorded in Russia in 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 January. This was a slight reduction on the 1994 figure of 32,300 but a large increase from the 15,600 cases recorded in 1990. Khromov also said there were 61,700 cases of grievious bodily harm and 12,500 rape cases in 1995--down from 67,700 and 14,000 in 1994, respectively. Also on 16 January, it was reported that more than 294,000 fires took place in 1995, in which about 15,000 people were killed. The corresponding figures for 1994 were 325,000 and 15,700. -- Penny Morvant RUSSIAN GDP FELL 4% in 1995. Russian GDP fell by 4% in real terms in 1995, totaling 1,659 trillion rubles (approximately $350 billion), according to Goskomstat figures cited by Interfax on 16 January. In 1994, GDP had fallen by 12.6%, so the rate of decline of the Russian economy has slowed. However, the upturn which had been predicted for 1995 failed to materialize. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA GEORGIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES DRAFT BUDGET. In accordance with IMF recommendations, the Georgian government has approved a draft budget for 1996, Interfax reported on 15 January. The draft foresees budget revenues of 555 million lari, 68% of which will come from taxes. Expenditures are projected at 772 million lari. The budget deficit of 217 million lari (approximately $176 million) will be covered with national bank loans (99 million lari) and credits from the IMF and World Bank (118 million lari). The projected budget deficit represents 3.8% of Georgia's GDP. -- Lowell Bezanis RUSSO-TAJIK COOPERATION ON DRUG INTERDICTION. A joint effort by Russian and Tajik military and law enforcement personnel has captured a substantial amount of illegal drugs in recent raids, Western and Russian sources reported. According to ITAR-TASS on 16 and 17 January, more than 280 kg (600 pounds) of opium were seized along the Tajik-Afghan border. These actions are part of an effort by both governments to stabilize and secure the Tajik-Afghan border. Since the beginning of 1995, Russo-Tajik efforts have resulted in the seizure of more than 5 tons of drugs on their way northward from Afghanistan, through Tajikistan, and into the rest of Central Asia and Russia. The value of the trade is estimated to be in the tens of millions of U.S. dollars. -- Roger Kangas [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez The OMRI Daily Digest offers the latest news from the former Soviet Union and Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. It is published Monday through Friday by the Open Media Research Institute. The OMRI 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 Please note that there is a new procedure for obtaining permission to reprint or redistribute the OMRI Daily Digest. 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