|Human life is but a series of footnotes to a vast obscure unfinished masterpiece. - Vladimir Nabokov|
No. 33, Part I, 15 February 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 ANNOUNCES CANDIDACY IN YEKATERINBURG. In Yekaterinburg on 15 February, President Boris Yeltsin officially announced that he will seek a second term. He said that his electoral platform is "practically ready" but needs some "smoothing" and that he will return to the city to present it, ITAR-TASS reported. The president said that he did not want to leave office when the future of reform still hangs in the balance. -- Robert Orttung ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ RUSSIA YELTSIN CALLS FOR SUCCESSFUL CONCLUSION OF CHECHEN CONFLICT...Yeltsin said that he hoped the Chechen war would be concluded before the presidential elections, arguing that "they are sending 18-year-old kids with no experience to fight against professionals, trained in camps in Turkey, Iran, and other countries, who are armed to the teeth." He asserted that he could not just pull the troops out, because in the case of Afghanistan, once the troops were withdrawn, "civil war flared up with new force." In issuing a decree on the establishment of a new anti- terrorist center, he demanded the capture of Chechen leaders Dzhokhar Dudaev, Salman Raduev, and Shamil Basaev, saying that they should be shot. -- Robert Orttung ...CRITICIZES PACE OF ARMY REFORM... During his visit to Yekaterinburg, Russian President Boris Yeltsin expressed dissatisfaction with the progress of military reform, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. Yeltsin criticized Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, saying that "reform is proceeding badly, but Grachev seems to think it is going well." Disagreement among the top brass has hampered efforts to restructure the post-Soviet Russian military. Yeltsin said a special presidential commission is considering an overall concept of military reform. -- Constantine Dmitriev ...GETS MIXED RECEPTION FROM LOCAL DIRECTORS. Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel recommended that local factory directors support Yeltsin's reelection, but his call did not meet with unanimous support, Izvestiya reported on 15 February. At a meeting with Rossel, the directors complained that Yeltsin's current policies are damaging production and entrepreneurship. Viktor Korovin, director of Uralmash, said that people are looking for someone to blame and thus creating an atmosphere in which "extremist forces" could come to power. -- Robert Orttung COMMUNISTS BACK ZYUGANOV. A conference of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) opened on 15 February in Moscow to nominate Gennadii Zyuganov as the party's presidential candidate, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputy KPRF leader Valentin Kuptsov said that the party had already collected 2.2 million signatures in his support. Kuptsov also asked the conference to support the candidacy of Kemerovo Oblast legislature chairman Aman Tuleev. Tuleev's candidacy would attract more voters, and he would then withdraw in favor of Zyuganov. Duma member Anatolii Lukyanov said that Tuleev might become the vice president, a post that Yeltsin eliminated after his conflict with former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi and that could only be restored by amending the constitution. -- Robert Orttung TsIK EXAMINES YELTSIN ELECTION VIOLATIONS. At a meeting on 14 February, the Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) found no evidence that the Railway and Communications Ministry had pressured its employees to sign petitions supporting Yeltsin's presidential candidacy, but it is still investigating another 46 complaints, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. When TsIK Chairman Nikolai Ryabov said that the Communists have been the main force behind discussion of the incidents, Duma deputy Aleksandr Kravets protested that he was trying to deflect attention away from possible abuses. On 13 February, Selskaya zhizn reported new allegations of pressure and bribery during the campaign to collect signatures for Yeltsin, this time in Orenburg Oblast. -- Robert Orttung DUMA FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO ON MILITARY SERVICE LAW. The Duma has again failed to override President Yeltsin's veto of proposed amendments to the law on military service that were approved by the previous Duma in December 1995 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 January 1996), ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. The Duma Defense Committee strongly recommended that the Duma support Yeltsin. Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Nikolai Bezborodov said that approving amendments that shorten the service term for certain categories of draftees and exempt others would further aggravate the shortage of enlisted personnel in the military. -- Constantine Dmitriev DUMA CANNOT AGREE ON LAW ON HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER. The Duma failed on 14 February to pass in the second reading a draft law that defines the position of the Russian Federation human rights commissioner, ITAR- TASS reported. Only 217 deputies voted in favor of the bill, which, as a constitutional law, requires 300 votes to pass. The law was passed in the first reading back in the summer of 1994 but has now failed on three occasions to clear the next hurdle, despite numerous amendments. According to Ekho Moskvy on 14 February, the Communists favor appointing Vladimir Isakov, an outspoken opponent of President Yeltsin, to the post of commissioner. The previous commissioner, Sergei Kovalev, was dismissed by the Duma early last year following his outspoken opposition to the government's military operation in Chechnya. -- Penny Morvant KARELIYA TO CHANGE CONSTITUTION. A working group has been set up in Kareliya to consider proposed amendments to the republic's constitution, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. Republican deputies are unhappy about provisions in the existing constitution, which was adopted two years ago, on the separation of powers between local legislative and executive bodies. In particular, they want the right to assess the performance of government members. The need for a two-chamber parliament in a republic with a population of only 800,000 has also been questioned, especially as the powers of the chambers sometimes contradict each other. -- Anna Paretskaya RUSSIAN REGIONS ON CHECHEN WAR. Supporting the initiative of Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov, who on 12 January published an open letter to Yeltsin urging the president to end the Chechen war, various political organizations in Chuvashiya have started petitions calling for an end to the Russian military operation, Russian TV reported on 14 February. Meanwhile, Cossacks in Stavropol Krai have started a petition opposing groups that are collecting signatures in favor of an immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya; they believe constitutional order must be established first, Ekho Moskvy reported. -- Anna Paretskaya GUNMAN IN PYONGYANG EMBASSY KILLED. The gunman who had forced his way into the Russian embassy compound in Pyongyang was killed (or committed suicide) during an operation by North Korean commandos, which had been approved by Russian diplomatic officials, Russian and Western agencies reported on 15 February. The gunman, identified as Cho Myong-kil, 25, a sergeant in the North Korean security services, had killed three North Korean guards before entering the compound on 14 February, where he demanded political asylum. -- Scott Parrish COUNCIL OF EUROPE AND EU OFFER RUSSIA AID PACKAGE. Officials of the European Union (EU) and the Council of Europe signed a 1.2 million ECU ($1.7 million) aid package for Russia designed to foster democratic institutions, Russian and Western agencies reported on 14 February. The package, developed in consultation with Russian officials, aims to assist Russia to make the legal and human rights reforms it has pledged to carry out to comply with the standards laid out by the Council of Europe, which has invited Russia to become its 39th member. It contains six programs, which will assist the development of local government, human rights organizations, legal education, prison reform, and law enforcement. -- Scott Parrish GROMOV DENIES KNOWLEDGE OF MILITARY AID TO AFGHANISTAN. Interviewed on the seventh anniversary of the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, Col.-Gen. (ret.) Boris Gromov, now the chairman of the State Duma's subcommittee on international security, told an RFE/RL correspondent on 14 February that he could not confirm Western reports that Russia was providing technical aid to the Afghan government of Burhanuddin Rabbani. Gromov, the last Soviet commander in Afghanistan, admitted some Russian military technicians might be in Afghanistan, but said he did not regard their work as "something negative." He said that there was a Russian-Afghan agreement that included military aid, but foreign ministry sources say there are no current military agreements, only an economic one. Many Western analysts contend that Russia is propping up the Rabbani government to prevent the opposition Taliban movement from taking power. -- Doug Clarke RUSSIA EXPECTS TO INCREASE ARMS SALES TO IRAN AND TURKEY. A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Trade revealed on 14 February that Tehran hopes to purchase $1 billion in military equipment from Russia over the next two years, and said arms sales to Iran in the next decade could total $4 billion, Russian and Western agencies reported. The official said $437 million of military-related goods were sold to Iran in 1994, accounting for over 85% of all Russian exports there. The United States reacted negatively to the news that Iran might purchase more Russian weapons, with State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns expressing "great concern" about the arms relationship between the two states. On 13 February, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Trade Oleg Davydov also predicted that Russia might sell NATO member Turkey up to $300 million in military equipment. -- Doug Clarke and Scott Parrish GAZPROM ANSWERS ITS CRITICS. Valerii Remizov, deputy chairman of Gazprom, refuted charges by Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov that the gas monopoly is a "parasite" on the state, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. Remizov claimed that Gazprom, which is still 40% state-owned, is paying more taxes than other companies and noted its ability to maintain its output level in recent years, while industrial output as a whole has fallen by 30%. The company's ability to pay more taxes is limited by the fact that it is owed 36 trillion rubles ($7.6 billion) by Russian customers and a further $2.2 billion by CIS customers. Belarus owes $910 million, and has paid nothing since the beginning of January. As a result, gas supplies to that country are being cut by 30% from 15 February. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA NIKOLAEV TOURS THE TRANSCAUCASUS. The head of the Russian Federal Border Troops, Col.-Gen. Andrei Nikolaev, has toured the Transcaucasus states in an attempt to drum up support for a proposed common security system to guard the southern borders of the CIS, with or without the participation of Azerbaijan, Russian agencies reported. After meeting in Erevan on 12 February with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Nikolaev said financing of the Russian border troops in Armenia and Georgia had improved in 1995; he further described Armenian-Russian relations as harmonious, according to Noyan Tapan. Nikolaev discussed joint control of the Abkhaz sector of the Russian-Georgian border with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze in Tbilisi on 13 February, Segodnya reported. The Georgian Parliamentary Press Service subsequently issued a statement saying that the Georgian parliament would only ratify the agreement on the status of Russian border troops in Georgia after the resolution of the Abkhaz conflict and after the Russian State Duma ratifies the Russian-Georgian Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation, according to ITAR-TASS. -- Liz Fuller ABKHAZIA PROPOSES "FEDERAL UNION" WITH GEORGIA. According to Anri Jergenia, a personal envoy of Abkhaz leader Vladislav Ardzinba, Abkhazia has proposed the creation of a federal union of Georgia and Abkhazia, Russian media reported on 13 February. Abkhaz negotiators, who have been holding consultations with Russian officials in Moscow, submitted the proposal to Georgian ambassador Vazha Lordkipanidze at a meeting in the Russian Foreign Ministry. According to Jergenia, the proposed union would contain elements of both a federation and a confederation. Hitherto, Abkhazia has rejected Georgian proposals that Abkhazia become a federal unit within Georgia, favoring a confederation. -- Irakli Tsereteli TOKAYEV CONCLUDES CHINA VISIT. At the end of a three-day visit to China, Kazakhstani Foreign Minister Kasymzhomart Tokayev told ITAR-TASS in Beijing on 14 February that he shared Russia's concerns about NATO's eastward expansion. Tokayev and his Chinese hosts agreed to hold the third session of an intergovernmental commission on economic, trade, scientific, and technological cooperation in November in Beijing. A trade panel will meet in October to discuss measures to improve bilateral trade, which totaled only $390,000 in 1995. -- Bhavna Dave KYRGYZ MUSLIMS STATE POSITION ON SALMAN RUSHDIE. Seven years after Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini declared a fatwa or death sentence on writer Salman Rushdie for his book Satanic Verses, Kyrgyzstan State Mufti Kimsanbay Abdurakhmanov has vowed that the Muslims of Kyrgyzstan "are ready to carry out this divine decree against the apostate," Reuters reported on 14 February, quoting the Iranian Republic News Agency (IRNA). Abdurakhmanov said that even if the Ayatollah had not issued the decree, "the Ulema of Central Asia would have given the same verdict today." -- Bruce Pannier [As of 1200 CET] Compiled by Penny Morvant 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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