Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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
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              Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc.
                       All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570
 
         

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