|Life is what happens to us while we're making other plans. - John Lennon|
No. 92, Part I, 13 May 1996
This is Part I of the Open Media Research Institute's Daily Digest. Part I is a compilation of news concerning Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia. Part II, covering Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of the Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html RUSSIA YELTSIN ANNOUNCES COALITION WITH "THIRD FORCE" CANDIDATES . . . President Boris Yeltsin announced on 11 May that presidential candidates Grigorii Yavlinskii, Aleksandr Lebed, and Svyatoslav Fedorov "will join the president's team," NTV reported. He said that the three are not his "political rivals" and that they all support a rule-of-law government, a market economy, and the greatness of Russia. He explained that the "cooperation" would take various forms and that the three might not have to withdraw their candidacies, Russian TV (RTR) reported. The three have tried unsuccessfully to unite their efforts to create a third force candidate to oppose both Yeltsin and Communist Gennadii Zyuganov. Yeltsin might replace Defense Minister Pavel Grachev as a concession to Yavlinskii, Segodnya speculated on 12 May, noting that Col. Gen. Boris Gromov accompanied the president on his Volga trip. -- Robert Orttung . . . BUT THIS IS DENIED BY PUTATIVE ALLIES. Yavlinskii denied that he intended to join any alliance with Yeltsin, terming his remarks "electoral rhetoric," Obshchaya gazeta reported on 12 May. He said that "the presidential team is trying to drag me into his entourage" and that the reports of an alliance are made to "sow confusion among my voters and in my regional campaign headquarters." Yavlinskii warned that Yeltsin could not be trusted to make the necessary policy changes that Yavlinskii cites as a prerequisite for working together. He also rejected the president's "nomenklatura" approach of handing out jobs and expecting everyone to be happy. Before the Duma election, Yavlinskii had seemingly come close to forming an alliance with Russia's Democratic Choice leader Yegor Gaidar but then pulled back at the last minute. Lebed said that he could not join an alliance with Yeltsin because "I do not think that the existing government is any better than the communists," AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung FEDOROV DOES NOT WANT TO BE YELTSIN'S "APPRENTICE." Eye surgeon and presidential candidate Svyatoslav Fedorov told NTV on 11 May that he would only consider supporting President Yeltsin's re-election if Yeltsin gives "carte blanche" in economic policy to him and like-minded economists, including Grigorii Yavlinskii. He said he could not serve in the government as a virtual "deputy" of the president: "I do not want to be an apprentice." However, he doubted that Yeltsin would agree to limit his own powers and not "interfere" in economic matters. In 1991, shortly after he was elected president, Yeltsin offered Fedorov the post of prime minister, but Fedorov refused and Yegor Gaidar was eventually appointed instead. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN SAYS NO TO TV DEBATES. Speaking in Astrakhan, President Yeltsin rejected Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's offer, delivered by letter on 10 May, to debate him on live television. He explained, "I was a communist for 30 years and have heard enough of this demagoguery, so today, with my democratic outlook, I can't stand this demagoguery anymore," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 May. Yeltsin indicated that he will not face off against any of his challengers. So many candidates are calling for debates, he said, that "If I debate every one, I simply won't have time to fulfill my presidential duties." Incumbent presidents are frequently reluctant to risk making gaffes or elevating the stature of their competitors by debating them on television. -- Laura Belin PATRIARCH ON ELECTIONS . . . During a three-day visit to Komi, Patriarch Aleksii II said that in the presidential election the Russian people must make the "right choice" and prevent a return to the religious repression of the past, Radio Rossii and NTV reported on 10 May. Although he stressed that the Russian Orthodox Church takes no part in political battles, his reminders of Soviet-era persecution echoed a theme sounded frequently by Yeltsin in the run-up to the election. Citing "reliable sources," NTV reported that the Kremlin was annoyed that the patriarch had chosen to visit the new Eparchy of Komi, the 51st in Russia, rather than attend V-E Day celebrations in Moscow. -- Penny Morvant . . . AND FOREIGN PREACHERS. In Perm on 12 May, the patriarch called on local authorities to adopt legislation regulating the activities of foreign religious organizations "that have nothing in common with Russia's Orthodox traditions," ITAR-TASS reported. Aleksii argued that the Duma is unable to pass such a law because both the parliament and the president are under "strong pressure from the West" not to adopt legislation restricting foreign proselytizing. According to the patriarch, 14 regions have already passed laws on foreign sects. Vyacheslav Polosin, who has participated in drafting new legislation on freedom of conscience, refuted the allegations that the Duma is under pressure from the West, Ekho Moskvy reported. He noted that the "overly strict" and "unconstitutional" draft passed by the Supreme Soviet in 1993 had been opposed by Protestants within Russia as well as by Western countries. -- Penny Morvant FRESH HOSTILITIES IN CHECHNYA. Russian forces subjected the town of Urus-Martan, southwest of Grozny, to air bombardment on 10, 11, and 12 May after Chechen guerrillas fired on Russian military helicopters, Russian media reported. The head of the local district administration claimed that the town's population had traditionally not supported Dzhokhar Dudaev's forces. Russian aircraft also attacked Chechen forces in the mountain stronghold of Bamut on 12 May. The situation in Vedeno, which was reportedly occupied by Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev on 11 May, remains unclear. NTV on 10 May cited unidentified Chechen field commanders as stating that acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev is ready to hold direct talks with any member of the Russian leadership who officially denies any connection with Dudaev's death and is empowered to declare a moratorium on hostilities. On 11 May, Dudaev's men released Chechen Health Minister Efim Gelman, who had been held hostage for more than one year, according to Russian Public TV (ORT). -- Liz Fuller GENERALS FACE PROSECUTION FOR CHECHNYA AMBUSH. Russian Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev on 12 May blamed Russian military officials for the heavy loss of life when an army convoy was ambushed in Chechnya on 16 April, and told NTV that they may be prosecuted. Kovalev headed the commission which investigated the incident, in which he said 73 servicemen were killed, 52 wounded, and three missing. The rebels also destroyed eight armored vehicles and 20 trucks. Kovalev charged that the military had not set up checkpoints on the road, nor provided proper air and artillery cover. He added that the regiment that was attacked had many untrained and recently deployed soldiers. He said that an investigation into "criminal negligence on the part of the responsible officials" is underway. -- Doug Clarke SOURCES OF FINANCING FOR CHECHEN REBELS. Izvestiya on 13 May published a summary of what it claimed is a secret Russian government report on how Chechen separatists have financed their ongoing operations against federal troops. The document alleges funds diverted from federally- funded projects in the republic represent a major source of Chechen rebel financing. Allegations of misuse of reconstruction funds in Chechnya have been widespread in the past. The document claims that other major sources of financing for the rebels are contributions from the Chechen diaspora, operations of Russian commercial banks controlled by the "Chechen-Ingush" mafia, and donations by foreign Muslim organizations based in the Middle East. -- Scott Parrish FIRST MAYORAL CANDIDATES REGISTERED IN MOSCOW. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and the former head of the local Communist Party organization, Aleksandr Krasnov, were the first two candidates to submit the required number of nomination signatures to register for the 16 June mayoral election, Ekho Moskvy and Russian TV (RTR) reported on 12 May. Candidates must submit 70,000 signatures or 1% of the total number of eligible voters. Aleksandr Krasnov sided with the rebellious parliament in its clash with the president in October 1993, and was appointed for a short time as Moscow administration head by former vice president and rebel leader Aleksandr Rutskoi. -- Anna Paretskaya RUSSIA, CHINA MAKE JOINT PROPOSAL AT ASEAN FORUM. Russia and China proposed a security concept for the Asia-Pacific region at a Jakarta meeting of the ASEAN forum on regional security, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 May. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Aleksandr Panov said the proposed concept was based on the five-power border security agreement signed in Shanghai on 26 April. Panov later reiterated that Russia wants a role in any future talks on a Korean settlement. He added that the recent closure of the Kraskino rail crossing between Russia and North Korea was a "purely commercial" matter caused by unpaid North Korean debts, and had no political overtones. Meanwhile, U.S. Undersecretary of State Winston Lord told ITAR-TASS that the U.S. supports Russia's application for membership in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Organization (APEC), which has had a moratorium on new members for the past year. -- Scott Parrish U.S. BUSINESSMAN EXPELLED FROM KAMCHATKA. In the third espionage incident within a week, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has ordered the expulsion from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii of Richard Oppfelt, head of Seattle Medical Export, for "activities damaging to Russian national security interests," Russian and Western agencies reported on 12 May. Following on the heels of espionage rows with Britain and Estonia, this latest incident has intensified speculation that the FSB is deliberately engineering arrests and expulsions so as to bolster President Yeltsin's re-election campaign. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIAN-NATO TALKS IN BRUSSELS. Russian Ambassador to NATO Vitalii Churkin met with his counterparts from the 16 member-states of the alliance on 10 May to discuss ongoing IFOR operations in Bosnia and disputed provisions of the 1990 CFE treaty, Reuters and AFP reported. No progress was reported, however, toward breaking the deadlock over the CFE "flank limits," which restrict Russia's holdings of heavy military equipment along its northern and southern borders. Western diplomats had hoped to hammer out a compromise before the opening of a CFE review conference in Vienna on 15 May. -- Scott Parrish TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA PRIMAKOV IN THE TRANSCAUCASUS. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov traveled from Yerevan to Baku on 10 May, taking with him 67 Azerbaijani prisoners of war and hostages released by the Armenian authorities, Russian media reported. During talks with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev, both men affirmed their commitment to maintaining the existing two-year ceasefire in Karabakh. On 12 May, Primakov flew to Tbilisi, where he held talks with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze on South Ossetiya and Abkhazia. Shevardnadze subsequently praised Russia's mediating role and Russian-Georgian relations, according to ITAR-TASS. -- Liz Fuller IRAN FINALLY AGREES TO STAKE IN SHAH-DENIZ. Iran has finally accepted Azerbaijan's offer of a 10% stake in the international consortium formed to develop its Shah-Deniz off-shore Caspian oil and gas deposits, Natik Aliev, chairman of Azerbaijan's state oil company, said in an Interfax report cited by AFP on 12 May. The offer was made last year as compensation for the Azerbaijani government's withdrawal, under U.S. pressure, of a previous offer to Iran to participate in the Western consortium formed to exploit the Shirag, Azeri, and Gyuneshli fields. -- Liz Fuller HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT ON UZBEKISTAN. Human Rights Watch/Helsinki has issued a report on Uzbekistan in which it states that while "well- publicized arrests, detentions, and beatings of political dissidents" have "decreased markedly," basic civil liberties "remain suspended," Reuters reported on 13 May. Surveillance of individuals and media censorship are still commonplace. In particular, the organization expressed its concern over measures taken against members of the country's Islamic community. The report comes at a time when foreign governments, including the U.S., have noted an improvement in Uzbekistan's human rights record. -- Roger Kangas NAZARBAYEV IN TEHRAN. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Tehran on 12-13 May to sign an agreement with his Iranian counterpart, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whereby Kazakhstan will export crude oil to Iran in exchange for help in refining and transporting Kazakhstani oil through Iranian ports, Russian and Western media reported. Oil exports are expected to amount to 2 million metric tons per year in the initial stages, with an expected increase to 6 million tons in 10 years. This is the latest in a series of pipeline deals that Kazakhstan has signed, including a deal signed on 27 April with Russia (see OMRI Daily Digest, 29 April 1996). -- Roger Kangas "JUNCTION FOR PLANET' OPENS ON TURKMEN-IRANIAN BORDER. The greatly publicized rail link between Turkmenistan and Iran was officially opened on 13 May, according to Western and Russian sources. The 300 km line, agreed to in 1991, will for the first time connect Iran to the Central Asian rail network, and is expected to cut travel time between Europe and southeast Asia by up to 10 days. Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and his Turkmen counterpart, Saparmurad Niyazov, hosted an opening ceremony for the line attended by 12 heads of state and 700 other officials and journalists. The $216 million Meshhed-Sarakhs- Tedzhen railway will be used by some 500,000 passengers and 2 million metric tons of goods in its first year of operation, and those figures are expected to rise in the near future, Reuters reported. -- Bruce Pannier "FIERCE" FIGHTING IN TAVIL-DARA. Tajik government troops and opposition fighters have been locked in "fierce" combat for several days, according to ITAR-TASS. The fighting, which began on 8 May, has spread and the opposition has now reportedly took the town of Tavil-Dara on 12 May. The opposition claims to have killed 45 government soldiers and taken 10 more prisoner, and captured several military vehicles and artillery pieces. The Tajik government has not confirmed any of these claims. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Victor Gomez ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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