|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
No. 15, Part I, 22 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ CIS LEADERS MEET IN MOSCOW. Russian President Boris Yeltsin opened the 17th meeting of the CIS Council of heads of state by praising the "significant practical steps" taken in 1995 toward CIS economic integration, which he described as "a free choice" by its members that preserved their "sovereignty and independence," Russian and Western agencies reported. Yeltsin also called for tighter coordination of defense and foreign policies within the CIS, arguing that only collectively could they resolve their security problems. The 12-member council re-elected Yeltsin as its chairman, who continues to hold the post despite a 1993 agreement to rotate it. The council addressed 24 topics during its meeting and agreed on a number of issues, including expanding the Belarus-Russia-Kazakhstan customs union, forming a CIS Council of Interior Ministers, extending the mandate of CIS peacekeepers in Tajikistan, resolving the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict, and bolstering CIS air defense. -- Scott Parrish ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA HEADS OF STATE APPROVE UNITED CIS AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM. At their 19 January meeting in Moscow, the CIS heads of state unanimously approved a general plan for guarding their mutual airspace, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian president's press service said the plan, which was endorsed by CIS defense ministers last November, contains the "main guidelines" for a united system and a long-term goal of creating an integrated aerospace defense system. The first stage includes, among other programs, the creation of air defense systems in Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan and the improvement of the systems in Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The united system includes all the CIS countries except Azerbaijan, Moldova, and Turkmenistan. -- Doug Clarke FERRY HIJACKERS SURRENDER. The pro-Chechen hijackers of the ferry Eurasia surrendered to Turkish authorities on 19 January, ending a four- day hostage crisis, Russian and Western agencies reported. The hijackers' leader, Mohammed Tokcan, and three of his men gave themselves up. Turkish police searching the vessel later arrested another five gunmen who were hiding. A Turkish spokesman said all nine men would face criminal charges. Although it ended without bloodshed, the incident further strained already cool Turkish-Russian relations. Shortly before the hijackers surrendered, Russian President Yeltsin had harshly criticized the Turkish handling of the crisis, while on 21 January, Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller said "mothers and children are being massacred" in Chechnya and called for international mediation to foster a "peaceful settlement." -- Scott Parrish BARSUKOV ASSESSES PERVOMAISKOE OPERATION. Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov and Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov held a press conference in Moscow on 20 January to discuss the operation to free the hostages held by Chechen rebels in Pervomaiskoe, Russian media reported. Barsukov described the hostage-taking in Kizlyar as revenge for the "defeat of Dudaevism" in the December elections in Chechnya and as part of Dudaev's aim of "spreading the fire of war" to neighboring regions. He claimed that if Russian forces had not taken action to end the crisis, it would have resulted in the escalation of terror in the North Caucasus and Russia as a whole. Barsukov estimated that about 300 rebels took part in the initial raid on Kizlyar and that 153 were killed during the Pervomaiskoe operation, meaning that a large number escaped. With regard to the hostages, he said 82 of the 120 or so who were taken to Pervomaiskoe were freed. Other estimates place the number of hostages as high as 200. He added that more than 2,400 federal forces took part in the operation, of whom 26 were killed and 95 wounded. Asked if the operation could be regarded as a success, he said that it could, "if only because the bulk of the gang was annihilated." -- Penny Morvant PRESS HAMMERS YELTSIN OVER PERVOMAISKOE. Otto Latsis wrote in Izvestiya on 20 January that Yeltsin's defense of the Pervomaiskoe operation showed that the president "was doing everything to destroy his already weak chances of regaining popular support." Latsis slammed the use of force in Pervomaiskoe as a misguided attempt to present Yeltsin as a decisive leader, demonstrating instead the incompetence of the Russian military and the bankruptcy of the government's Chechen policy. Another Izvestiya article likened Yeltsin's decisions on Pervomaiskoe to the brutal Chechen policy suggested by LDPR leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky, contending that the opposition is gaining influence over Yeltsin's decisions. Ekho Moskvy and NTV also offered harsh criticism of Yeltsin's justification of the bungled Pervomaiskoe operation. -- Scott Parrish DUMA APPROVES COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN. The State Duma selected leaders for 28 committees, five more than in the last Duma, Russian media reported on 19 January. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation will head nine committees, including legislation (Anatolii Lukyanov), economic policy (Yurii Maslyukov), security (Viktor Ilyukhin), and veterans' affairs (1991 coup plotter Valentin Varennikov). Our Home Is Russia (NDR), the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR), and Yabloko were each assigned four committees. NDR's posts include the committees on privatization (Pavel Bunich) and defense (Lt. Gen. Lev Rokhlin). The LDPR will head committees on labor and social protection (Sergei Kalashnikov), geopolitics (Aleksei Mitrofanov), and information policy (Oleg Finko). Yabloko kept the two major committees it held in the last Duma: budget (Mikhail Zadornov) and foreign affairs (Vladimir Lukin). The People's Power faction was assigned three committees, including CIS affairs (Georgii Tikhonov) and culture (Stanislav Govorukhin). The Agrarian faction and Russian Regions each got two posts. However, Russian Regions leader Vladimir Medvedev denounced the way that committee chairmanships were handed out and his deputy group refused to accept the two committee chairmanships designated for them, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 19 January. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN SLAMS CHUBAIS . . . At a press conference on 19 January, President Yeltsin blamed former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais for the poor showing of Our Home Is Russia in the December Duma elections, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yeltsin said that the champion of tight monetary policy, who resigned on 17 January, did a lot of good things but also made mistakes, and claimed that if he had removed Chubais earlier, the pro-government party would have got 20% not 10% of the vote. Yeltsin stressed, however, that reform would not be affected by Chubais' departure. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov said the Russian people had been swindled by Chubais's privatization measures, which should be investigated by the Procurator's Office, Radio Mayak reported. However, in a 19 January interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta, Deputy Economics Minister Sergei Vasilev expressed concern that Chubais's removal would have an adverse affect on Russia's loan negotiations with international financial organizations and thus on the 1996 budget. -- Penny Morvant . . . AND YAVLINSKII. Yeltsin also blamed the election of Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, a Communist, on Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko faction, Russian TV reported 19 January. "If Yabloko had not supported the Communists, Seleznev would not have been elected," he claimed. Yavlinskii rejected the charges, saying that a Communist speaker was inevitable following the 17 December election, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. Yabloko Duma member Viktor Sheinis said that Yabloko, whose members all voted for Yabloko member Vladimir Lukin as speaker, must "go it alone" in the new Duma because Our Home Is Russia and the newly formed deputy groups have little future and are riddled with internal disagreements, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 20 January. -- Robert Orttung MOSCOW MAYOR JOINS PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN HEADQUARTERS. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has joined the headquarters for the election of the Russian president, which is chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, Interfax reported on 19 January. Luzhkov and former Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov have become Soskovets' deputies at the headquarters. Interfax reported that Luzhkov will be responsible for preparing the presidential elections in Moscow, where President Yeltsin has enjoyed strong support. Meanwhile, the governors of Amur and Moscow oblasts and Stavropol Krai, Vladimir Dyachenko, Anatolii Tyazhlov, and Petr Marchenko, have been named heads of committees for the re-election of President Yeltsin in their respective regions, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. Yeltsin has not announced whether he will run for re-election in June. -- Anna Paretskaya TATARSTAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE SUSPECTED OF MURDER. A candidate in Tatarstan's 24 March presidential election, Tatar Communist Party member Ramil Gabrakhmanov, has been arrested in connection with a murder case. Interfax-Eurasia reported on 19 January that Gabrakhmanov, who is the director of the Kazan Vinegar factory company, is suspected of involvement in the murder of former Kazan criminal police chief Vladislav Baranov. Several other people have already been detained in the same case. -- Anna Paretskaya RUSSIA BLOCKS PROGRESS ON NUCLEAR AGREEMENTS. Frustrated U.S. officials say Russia has torpedoed the implementation of a nuclear security and weapons inspection agreement reached by President Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, at their May 1995 summit meeting, The Washington Post reported on 22 January. The officials said that the mutual inspections and data exchanges called for by the May 1995 joint statement on "transparency and irreversibility" of nuclear weapons reductions, which are intended to facilitate mutual monitoring of nuclear weapons and fissile materials stockpiles, have not occurred. The joint statement also called for the conclusion of a legal agreement to ensure protection of the exchanged data, but that has not happened either. Nicholas Burns, a spokesman for the State Department, said the U.S. still hopes to implement the agreement, suggesting that high-level involvement might be needed to push it forward. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA'S PRODUCTION OF GOLD FALLS . . . Russia produced 111 metric tons of gold in 1995, a 12% drop compared with 1994, Radio Rossii reported on 21 January, citing the State Statistical Committee. In 1994 gold output dropped by 11% from 1993. The fall in gold output has been blamed on rising production costs. The slump in the gold mining industry contributed to the slowdown in the growth of the non-ferrous metals industry in 1995, according to the report. -- Natalia Gurushina . . . WHILE FOREIGN TRADE SOARS. The volume of Russia's foreign trade totaled $135.7 billion in 1995, a 16% increase over 1994, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January, citing the State Statistical Committee. Exports increased 18% to $77.8 billion and imports increased 15% to $57.9 billion. The formation of the customs union with Kazakhstan and Belarus boosted Russia's trade with the former Soviet republics, which in 1995 increased by 5% to $29.8 billion (22% of Russia's 1995 foreign trade turnover). At the same time, there was a 9% decline in Russian exports to the former Soviet republics (the bulk of which were fuel and energy resources), whereas imports soared by 21% to $16.3 billion. Russia's trade turnover with countries outside the former Soviet Union was up 20% in 1995, reaching $105.9 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA CIS SUMMIT TIGHTENS SCREWS ON ABKHAZIA. Meeting in Moscow on 19 January, CIS heads of state, with the exception of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, approved a proposal by Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze to ban trade, financial, and economic transactions with the government of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. Food and medical supplies may be transported to Abkhazia with Georgia's permission. They also affirmed collective recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity and extended for a further three months the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces that have been stationed in Abkhazia since July 1994. The first deputy speaker of the Abkhaz parliament, Stanislav Lakoba, told Interfax on 20 January that the sanctions may prevent a mediated settlement to the conflict and said that Russia is no longer an impartial mediator. -- Liz Fuller MANDATE OF CIS PEACEKEEPERS IN TAJIKISTAN EXTENDED. The CIS heads of state decided to extend the term of the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan until 30 June at their 19 January summit meeting in Moscow, according to ITAR-TASS. This extension may be the last. President Yeltsin reportedly told Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov that he had six months to "get a grip on things." Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Uzbek President Islam Karimov have made similar statements. Troops from Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan have been helping to defend Tajikistan's border from Tajik rebels based in Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier TAJIKISTAN'S STATE MUFTI MURDERED. The state-sanctioned spiritual leader of Tajikistan and his family were found murdered at their house west of the capital, Dushanbe, Western sources reported on 22 January. Fatkhullo Sharifzoda, his wife, son, daughter-in-law, and one other person were found dead shortly before midnight on 21 January. The 53-year-old mufti had occupied his position since December 1992, when current Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov came to power. -- Bruce Pannier [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. 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