|Истиный друг есть величайшее из благ и вместе с тем то благо, о приобретении которого думают меньше всего. - Ф. Ларошфуко|
No. 16, Part I, 23 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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ YELTSIN ON PLANS TO RUN FOR RE-ELECTION. President Boris Yeltsin announced at a Kremlin meeting with the Foreign Investment Advisory Council that he will probably run for re-election this June, although he will not make a formal announcement until mid-February, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 January. Yeltsin said he expected to face a "tough battle" for re-election, but he told the foreign investors, "We will organize the election campaign taking into account the experience of your countries." -- Laura Belin ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA GAIDAR AGAINST YELTSIN RE-ELECTION BID. Yegor Gaidar asserted that a Yeltsin candidacy would be "absolutely suicidal" and "the best present that could possibly be given to the Communists," Russian media reported on 22 January. He said his Russia's Democratic Choice party will ask the president not to run for re-election and will not support Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii but would be prepared to discuss the candidacy of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. On the same day, Gaidar resigned from the consultative presidential council, citing "the events of last week." He did not specify whether he meant the botched Pervomaiskoe hostage crisis or the departure from the government of Anatolii Chubais, the architect of Russia's privatization program. -- Laura Belin RYABOV: PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN HQ SHOULD NOT SERVE ONE CANDIDATE. Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) Chairman Nikolai Ryabov said any "transformation" of the official presidential campaign headquarters into a campaign office for one candidate would be "inadmissible," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January. Last week, Yeltsin put First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets in charge of a new presidential campaign headquarters (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1996). The remarks are surprising in that Ryabov has long been loyal to Yeltsin; the president appointed him to head the TsIK shortly after dissolving the Supreme Soviet in September 1993. The TsIK has already registered 23 initiative groups supporting various presidential hopefuls, but Ryabov estimated that no more than 10 candidates will manage to collect the 1 million signatures needed to register for the June election by the 16 April deadline, Russian TV reported. -- Laura Belin AGREEMENT ON RELEASE OF PERVOMAISKOE HOSTAGES. After two days of negotiations, the Chechen militants headed by Salman Raduev and the Dagestani authorities agreed on 22 January that the hostages taken by the Chechens from Pervomaiskoe would be released on 23 January near the Chechen village of Novogroznensky in return for the bodies of Raduev's men who were killed there, Russian media reported. Negotiations are still continuing on the release of the 29 workers abducted by Chechen guerrillas from the Grozny power and heat plant on 16 January. At a press conference in Grozny on 22 January, representatives of various Chechen political parties expressed their readiness to act as mediators between the government of Doku Zavgaev and Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. They also announced that a coalition council would be formed to expedite the resumption of negotiations and stabilize the political situation as a precondition for holding new elections, Radio Rossii reported. -- Liz Fuller DEPUTIES APPEAL TO CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVER COMMITTEE CHAIRMANSHIPS. A group of independent Duma members is preparing an appeal to the Constitutional Court because they believe that the four parties that crossed the 5% barrier violated their rights by deciding among themselves who would chair the Duma's 28 committees, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January. The group is led by Women of Russia leader Yekaterina Lakhova and former Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Shakhrai. The appeal is unlikely to win a sympathetic hearing since a large majority of Duma members supported the division of committee assignments. Russian Regions, a deputy group made of independent Duma members, has already refused to accept the two committee chairmanships designated for them, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 19 January. As a result, the committees on northern regions and health care are currently without leaders. -- Robert Orttung FRENCH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS YELTSIN. In Moscow for a two-day visit, French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette held discussions with President Yeltsin on bilateral issues, European security, and preparations for the planned April G-7 Moscow meeting on nuclear security, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 January. Later, de Charette became the first Western foreign minister to meet with his recently appointed Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov. The French diplomat said he found Primakov, labeled conservative by many Western commentators, to be "warm" rather than "tough." He also expressed understanding for Russian concerns about NATO expansion, saying that the interests of both the Central European countries and Russia deserve careful consideration. -- Scott Parrish U.S. DENIES RUSSIA HINDERING NUCLEAR AGREEMENTS. White House spokesman Michael McCurry refuted reports that Russia is reneging on a nuclear inspection agreement reached at the May 1995 Yeltsin-Clinton summit (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 January 1995), Western agencies reported on 22 January. McCurry admitted that Russian leaders are "grappling with their role in world affairs," but he argued that the Russo-U.S. relationship continues to be characterized by a "spirit of cooperation" and pointed to the upcoming Washington visit of Russian Prime Minister Chernomyrdin as evidence. Meanwhile, on 23 January, Izvestiya described Russo-U.S. relations as having reached their lowest ebb in 10 years, which the paper attributed to recent personnel changes in the Russian government and Yeltsin's desire to be re-elected, even at the cost of good relations with the U.S. -- Scott Parrish PRISON REFORM CONCEPT APPROVED. President Yeltsin has approved in general an Interior Ministry concept for reorganizing Russia's criminal procedure and penal system, Radio Rossii reported on 22 January. The plan provides for prisoners to serve their sentences in their own region, for convicts serving their first sentence to be separated from recidivists, and for the degree of restriction of freedom to be dependent on a prisoner's behavior. The concept aims to bring Russia's penal system into line with international standards. Following the publication in late 1994 of a UN special report likening Russia's pre- trial detention centers to Dante's inferno, the government has taken a number of steps aimed at improving prison conditions. -- Penny Morvant GOSKOMSTAT RELEASES 1995 INCOME DATA. Real incomes in Russia fell by 13% in 1995 compared with 1994, largely as a result of high inflation in the winter of 1994-95, Izvestiya reported on 23 January, citing the State Statistics Committee. The per capita income of 24% of the Russian population, or 35.6 million people, exceeded 1 million rubles in December 1995, Interfax reported. For the year as a whole, an average of 24.7% of the population had incomes below the minimum subsistence level, but the number of people living below the poverty line decreased steadily from 49.4 million (33%) in January to 28.9 million (20%) in December and the process of income stratification slowed. In December, the richest 10% of the population had about 27% of the country's total income and the poorest 10% had only 2.5%, while 63% of the population had below-average incomes. -- Penny Morvant BANKS TO EARN $40 MILLION EACH FROM $100 BILL EXCHANGE. The eight Russian commercial banks that are carrying out the exchange of old $100 bills for new ones, will earn about $40 million each by charging a 2% commission, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January, citing Aleksandr Auzan, the president of the International Confederation of Consumers' Unions. Auzan said the commission amounts to a "confiscation" of $320 million out of the total $16 billion that Russians currently hold in such bills. Banks, however, insist that the commission is necessary to cover the cost of shipping the new $100 bills from the U.S. to Russia. -- Natalia Gurushina GAZPROM AND BASF TO SIGN DM 1 BILLION CREDIT AGREEMENT. The Russian gas company Gazprom and BASF will sign a DM 1 billion loan deal to increase the supply of gas from the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug to Western Europe, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January, citing BASF Chairman Juergen Strube. The Russian government will not participate in the project and the credit is guaranteed by Gazprom. The joint-venture "Gazprom-BASF" began constructing a pipeline to transport Russian gas to Western Europe in the late 1980s. -- Natalia Gurushina CHERNOMYRDIN REASSURES FOREIGN INVESTORS. At a 22 January meeting of the government's Foreign Investment Advisory Council, attended by Russia's senior ministers and top foreign businessmen, President Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin assured foreign investors that "the government will not abandon the policy of democratic reforms [and] the market," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 January. Chernomyrdin stressed that, despite the recent cabinet reshuffle, the government is committed to a policy of financial stabilization and low inflation. He also said that privatization will continue in 1996 but with some modifications. In particular, the mass sell-offs of Russian companies will be replaced with specially chosen case-by-case deals that should make the process more effective. As regards loans-for-shares auctions, they will be held in 1996, but the state will retain 51% of companies' equity capital, according to Yeltsin. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA SHARP DROP IN NEWSPAPER SUBSCRIPTIONS IN UZBEKISTAN. Total subscriptions to all Uzbekistan's newspapers and magazines represent only 6% of the 1992 figure, according to the 18-24 January issue of Obshchaya gazeta. The chairman of the Uzbek Journalist Union, Lutfulla Kabirov, blamed the situation on the fact that the news reports vary very little from one Uzbek newspaper to the next. Another major reason for the drop could be the government's tight censorship of newspapers and persecution of independent-minded journalists. Total newspaper circulation in the country is expected to drop by another 50% this year. -- Bhavna Dave ARMENIA, IRAN, AND TURKMENISTAN DISCUSS TRADE. The foreign ministers of Armenia, Iran, and Turkmenistan met in Tehran for two days of talks aimed at boosting trilateral economic relations beginning on 20 January, Western and Iranian media reported the same day. The three ministers signed a memorandum of understanding that foresees $30 million worth of three-way trade and outlines cooperation in banking, transport, and trade, IRNA reported on 22 January. Trade relations between the three countries currently involve the supply of Turkmen natural gas to Armenia via Russia and Georgia in exchange for Armenian light and heavy industrial equipment transported across Iranian territory. -- Lowell Bezanis RESPONSE TO MUFTI'S MURDER. Tajik presidential press secretary Safar Saidov denounced the murder of the country's Muslim spiritual leader, Mufti Fatkhullo Sharifzoda, as "a terrible sin," according to Russian and Western agencies. The mufti, three members of his family, and a religious student were shot to death in their sleep on the night of 21 January by gunmen who broke into their home some 25 km west of Dushanbe. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov visited the scene on 22 January and described the murders as a terrorist act aimed at destabilizing the peace process. The crime took place on the first day of the Muslim fasting month, Ramadan. A spokesman for the Tajik opposition, Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, also condemned the murders. Turajonzoda was the state mufti before Sharifzoda. No arrests have been made in the case. -- Bruce Pannier SPLIT IN TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY. Rastakhiz, one of the parties in the United Tajik Opposition (UTO), has split into two factions. ITAR-TASS reported in January that Rastakhiz had released a statement declaring its recognition of the Tajik government (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 January 1996), but party Chairman Tohir Abdujabbor denied this. However, RFE/RL sources in Dushanbe reported that on 19 January, Rastakhiz Deputy Chairman Sharafaddin Imomov declared that the party had recognized President Imomali Rakhmonov's government but would act as a "constructive opposition party." The Rastakhiz Party leadership in Tehran countered that it "hasn't and will not recognize the government." -- 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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