Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow; Naught may endure but Mutability. - Percy Shelley
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 37, Part I, 21 February 1996


New OMRI Analytical Briefs:
-  "North Korea Blasts ITAR-TASS for Coverage of Embassy Incident",
    by Scott Parrish.
-  "Hungary's Finance Minister Steps Down", by Zsofia Szilagyi
-  "Bulgarian Press Condemns Arrest of Colleagues", by Stefan Krause
-  "Austrian Court Releases Kovac Jr.", by Sharon Fisher

Available only via the World Wide Web:
http://www.omri.cz/Publications/Analytical/Index.html

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^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^
RUSSIAN FORCES TAKE NOVOGROZNENSKII. Russian federal troops succeeded in
taking the east Chechen village of Novogroznenskii on 20 February after
a five day battle in which up to 200 Chechen militants were killed,
Western agencies reported. Most of the Chechen contingent managed to
escape through Russian lines before the final onslaught which left many
buildings in flames. Also on 20 February, unidentified Chechen gunmen
attacked the Grozny oil refinery, setting ablaze a storage tank
containing 3,000 metric tons of fuel, according to Reuters. In Moscow,
Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree transforming the Federal
Authorities in Chechnya into the office of the Russian Government's
Representative in Chechnya, and appointing Nikolai Fedosov as Russian
plenipotentiary there, Russian Television reported. -- Liz Fuller
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

RUSSIA

YELTSIN ENDORSED BY FEDOROV... The failure of Russia's democratic camp
to agree on a common presidential candidate has moved Forward, Russia!
leader Boris Fedorov to endorse President Boris Yeltsin's reelection
bid, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. Although he opposes the
government's economic policies, Fedorov said "it is better to stay in
the same place than to go backwards." He added that if Communist Party
leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the current front-runner in the race, is
elected, Russia will face several years of "dangerous experiments."
Leaving his options open, however, Fedorov confirmed that Forward,
Russia! will continue collecting signatures to place Fedorov himself on
the ballot, as was decided at a 17 February conference of the movement,
Ekspress-khronika reported. -- Laura Belin

...AND LAKHOVA. On 20 February, Women of Russia leader Yekaterina
Lakhova also endorsed Yeltsin's candidacy, calling Zyuganov's campaign
promises "populism" and "empty words," Russian media reported. Lakhova
was a presidential adviser on women's and family issues from August 1992
until January 1994, when Yeltsin appointed her to head the Presidential
Commission on Women, Family and Children, a post she still holds. She
helped found Women of Russia in October 1993. During 1994 and 1995, her
Duma faction sometimes voted with the Communists in parliament, but
often supported the government on key issues, such as the budget.
Although the movement just missed the 5% threshold in the December Duma
elections, Lakhova was elected in a single-member district. -- Laura
Belin

KOHL OPENLY ENDORSES YELTSIN. Disregarding criticism that he has tied
German policy too closely to President Boris Yeltsin, German Chancellor
Helmut Kohl told journalists on 20 February that Yeltsin is the "best
president for Russia," Russian and Western agencies reported. Kohl also
rejected as "idiotic" suggestions that the West should cut aid to
Russia, saying Russia's internal political situation would "certainly
take a turn for the worse" in the absence of Western support. Earlier, a
spokesman for the opposition German Social Democratic Party (SPD) had
likened Kohl's support of Yeltsin to "playing Russian roulette" with
Russo-German relations since Yeltsin may not win a second term. Russian
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told ITAR-TASS the same day that
Kohl's visit was deliberately designed to help Yeltsin's re-election
bid, a view Kohl has publicly denied. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN BLAMES PREVIOUS PARLIAMENT FOR VIOLATING FEDERALISM PRINCIPLES.
In a letter to Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, President Boris
Yeltsin denounced the previous Russian parliament for violating
federalist principles in its legislative practice, Russian agencies
reported on 20 February. Some of the federal laws passed by the
parliament adressed issues which, according to the constitution, fall
under exclusive jurisdiction of regional or local authorities. The
letter asked Federation Council members, who are federation subjects'
leaders, to adhere to the principles of power separation between center
and regions and avoid adopting laws which exceed the limits of federal
jurisdiction. -- Anna Paretskaya

COURT NARROWS DEFINITION OF PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY. In response to an
enquiry from President Boris Yeltsin about the constitutionality of
various legal provisions on the status of deputies, the Constitutional
Court ruled that a member of the Federal Assembly is only immune to
prosecution if the legal violation in question is directly related to
his or her duties as a deputy, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported on 20
February. Thus, deputies can be sued for all other criminal and
administrative offenses. In November 1994, MMM investment fund head
Sergei Mavrodi escaped prosecution for tax fraud by winning a seat in
the Duma in a by-election. -- Penny Morvant

SWISS FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW. On 20 February, Russian Foreign
Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his Swiss counterpart, Flavio Cotti,
Russian agencies reported. Switzerland holds the rotating chairmanship
of the OSCE for 1996, and in this capacity Cotti discussed with Primakov
the Chechen, Georgian-Abkhazian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, as well
as the Russian minority in Estonia, according to ITAR-TASS. Cotti later
told journalists that he had expressed "concern" to Primakov over the
continued military operations in Chechnya, but noted Primakov had
admitted that a military solution to the Chechen conflict was
"unrealistic." He also said Russia and the OSCE would more closely
coordinate their efforts to settle the Georgian-Abkhazian and Nagorno-
Karabakh conflicts. and expressed "understanding" for Russian concerns
about the status of the ethnic Russian minority in Estonia. -- Scott
Parrish

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT COMMISSION DISCUSSES CIS POLICY. The Russian
Governmental Committee on CIS Affairs met in Moscow on 20 February under
the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov, ITAR-TASS
reported. The committee discussed plans for implementing the CIS
strategy outlined in a September 1995 presidential decree (see OMRI
Daily Digest, 18 September 1995). The meeting also heard a report on
Russian military cooperation with the other CIS states from Deputy Chief
of the Russian General Staff, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Zhurbenko, who reported
that the CIS states owe the Russian Defense Ministry $6.7 million,
mostly for training their officers at Russian military academies.
Despite these debts, the committee endorsed Zhurbenko's proposal that
funds to finance the training of up to 1,000 cadets from the CIS be
earmarked in the 1997 Russian federal budget, citing the Commonwealth's
strategic importance. -- Scott Parrish

UN SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS RELEASE OF RUSSIAN PILOTS. Foreign Ministry
spokesman Grigorii Karasin told journalists on 20 February of the UN
Security Council's demand for the "immediate and unconditional" release
of seven Russian airmen held captive by the Afghan Taliban movement,
Russian agencies reported. The airmen have been held in Kandahar for
over six months, since their IL-76 transport was forced down last August
(see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 August 1995) Hopes that they would be
released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when amnesties are
traditionally granted in many Muslim countries, have not materialized.
Although the Taliban agreed in principle to free the pilots, they have
refused to set an exact date for their release, reneging on an earlier
promise to release them on 30 December 1995. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA STILL WARY OVER NATO EXPANSION. Russian Foreign Ministry
spokesman Grigorii Karasin told journalists on 20 February that Russia
was "concerned" about recent suggestions by U.S. Assistant Secretary of
Defense John White that American forces might remain in Hungary longer
than the one year IFOR mandate. Karasin said White's suggestion, later
described by the Pentagon as a misstatement, caused Russian officials to
wonder about the implications of NATO building an infrastructure in
Hungary to support IFOR troops in Bosnia. Karasin said Russia feared
that NATO was pushing forward with the "actual intensification" of
expansion, even though Western leaders have recently assured Russia that
the alliance will not expand during 1996. Karasin reiterated the Russian
view that any discussion of NATO expansion was "destructive" and
provoked "distrust and suspicion." -- Scott Parrish

ATTACK ON MOSKOVSKII KOMSOMOLETS JOURNALIST FOILED. Two men broke into
the home of Moskovskii komsomolets journalist Aleksandr Minkin on 20
February, Russian and Western agencies reported. The unidentified
assailants, armed with steel bars, fled after Minkin's family woke up
and called for help. This was the second attack on Minkin in the past
year. Last September, he suffered a broken nose after being beaten up
near his home. In October 1994 another journalist for the muck-raking
Moskovskii komsomolets, Dmitrii Kholodov, was killed by a booby-trapped
briefcase. -- Penny Morvant

ALCOHOL IN THE CIS. Delegates to the fourth congress of the
International League of Sobriety and Health, which opened in Moscow on
20 February, described alcoholism as a serious obstacle to the
implementation of socioeconomic reforms, Russian agencies reported.
According to data presented at the conference, Belarus has the highest
per capita consumption of alcohol in the CIS--7 liters--and Tajikistan
the lowest (O.8 liters). Russia was in second place, with 6.8 liters;
other reports, however, have put annual Russian consumption at a much
higher level of 15 liters. Delegates noted that relative spending on
alcohol in the CIS has fallen over the past four years, as prices for
alcohol have not risen as fast as those for other goods. In Russia, the
Economics Ministry has set minimum prices for strong alcoholic
beverages, effective 12 March, in an attempt to protect the market from
low-quality, particularly illicit and contraband products. -- Penny
Morvant

MOSCOW METRO WORKERS PICKET GOVERNMENT BUILDING. About 50 Moscow metro
building workers picketed the Russian government building on 20 February
to demand the payment of back wages and federal financing for the
Metrostroi company, Ekspress-Khronika reported. The metro workers had
sent an open letter to President Yeltsin on 16 February expressing their
"indignation" at underfunding, noting that they have received nothing
from the 2.3 trillion rubles earmarked for the metro from the federal
budget and an additional 1.3 trillion in promised government investment,
ITAR-TASS reported. According to the workers, the lack of funding has
paralyzed the construction of new lines and halted work to replace
rolling stock and escalators as well as delaying wages. -- Penny Morvant

TRUD ON WAGE ARREARS. Instead of their wages, hundreds of thousands of
Russian workers are receiving documents certifying that they are
employed but that their employer is currently unable to pay them, Trud
reported on 20 February. These certificates can then be presented to
officials at municipal housing offices, pre-schools and other
organizations that require the regular payment of fees. According to
Goskomstat, the wage debt in the Russian economy on 20 January equaled
20.4 trillion rubles ($4.25 billion), ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February.
-- Penny Morvant

OIL COMPANIES ANNOUNCE A 25% PRICE RISE FROM 1 MARCH. Russia's leading
oil companies announced that they will increase the price of crude oil
by 25% starting 1 March, Russian media reported on 20 February. The
companies claim that the rationale for this move is provided by the
government's November 1995 decision to reappraise the industry's assets,
increasing their value by an average of 140-160%. The resulting larger
depreciation outlays, they say, will boost production costs from 209,000
rubles to 344,000 rubles per ton, and push the average price of one ton
of crude above 400,000 rubles ($84). -- Natalia Gurushina

TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

REGIONAL GOVERNMENT CHANGES IN TAJIKISTAN. Tajik President Imomali
Rakhmonov continues to reshuffle administrative positions in the wake of
this month's crises, western and Russian sources noted. According to
ITAR-TASS on 19 February, the Chairman of the Tursun Zade regional
government, Murodali Tabarov, has been relieved of his duties "at his
own request," and replaced by Sadullo Mirzoyev, who is a current member
of the Tajik parliament. Tajik Radio also reported, as noted by the BBC,
that the new head of the Pyandj district, which is located along the
Tajik-Afghan border, will be Chillakhon Isoyev. In the past two weeks,
Rakhmonov has replaced 6 government advisors, including the prime
minister, as well as the chairman of the Leninabad region, before these
most recent changes which involve the very regions where fighting has
taken place. -- Roger Kangas

KAZAKHSTANI DEFENSE MINISTER STRESSES TRILATERAL COOPERATION. In an
interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta on 10 February, Kazakhstan's defense
minister Alibek Kasymov said that trilateral cooperation between Russia,
Kazakhstan and Belarus, based on common defense interests and common
defense space is yet another step toward attaining military integration.
He said he does not see the CIS collective security treaty as a kind of
counterbalance to alliances such as NATO or ASEAN. Kasymov also denied
any "ethnic problem" in the country's army which he claimed is almost
equally composed of Russians and Kazakhs, though there is a greater
number of Kazakhs among privates and non-commissioned officers. Finally,
he added that two Russian divisions -- heavy bombers and missiles --
have already withdrawn from Kazakhstan and the remaining units will be
withdrawn later this year. -- Bhavna Dave

UN TO ADVISE CENTRAL ASIAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE. The United Nations plans
to send advisors to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to advise the
three countries on the formation of a previously agreed upon joint
peacekeeping battalion under UN auspices, the Uzbek paper Narodnoe slovo
reported on 20 February, as cited by the BBC. The paper published a
letter from UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the presidents
of the three Central Asian states in which he thanked them for their
decision to establish a joint peacekeeping battalion and announced that
he would shortly be sending two senior officials to provide their
governments with "essential technical advice." -- Doug Clarke

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Roger Kangas

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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