|Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has. - Margaret Mead|
No. 97, Part I, 20 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 CIS PRESIDENTS ENDORSE YELTSIN . . . The 17 May CIS summit in Moscow ended with a declaration of support for continued political and economic reform in Russia and President Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign, Russian and Western media reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev called on Russian voters to make the "right decision," while Uzbek President Islam Karimov declared that Yeltsin's opponent, Gennadii Zyuganov, is "completely unacceptable." Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov referred to Yeltsin as a "wise and gifted politician." The 11 non-Russian leaders also rejected any move to restore the Soviet Union. -- Roger Kangas . . . AND CALL FOR FURTHER INTEGRATION. The CIS leaders agreed to examine a six-part plan to address economic and trade cooperation, military and peacekeeping activities, crime fighting measures, border protection, and greater coordination of foreign policies, ITAR-TASS reported. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, who addressed the summit, called for the CIS to increase its ties with the UN, noting that CIS peacekeeping in Abkhazia and Tajikistan are "positive examples" of the benefits of regional cooperation. The presidents noted that further cooperation can only take place voluntarily. President Yeltsin and his Kazakhstani counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, stressing that other CIS states are not being pressured to join the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan- Kyrgyzstan customs union, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Roger Kangas YELTSIN ON UKRAINE, BELARUS. Speaking after the CIS summit, President Yeltsin again refused to set a date for his long-delayed visit to Ukraine, Russian media reported on 17 May. Yeltsin reaffirmed that he would only go to Kyiv "for a large-scale political visit" that included the signing of a "comprehensive treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, which does not exist yet." He confirmed that the Black Sea Fleet issue continues to block the conclusion of the treaty, although he expressed hope that the deadlock would be broken soon. Visiting Omsk on 19 May, Yeltsin mildly rebuked Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said he had advised Lukashenka to release opposition activists arrested during recent anti-government demonstrations. "In Russia and the other CIS countries," said Yeltsin, "people are free to express their opinions and hold meetings." -- Scott Parrish DUMA FAILS TO OVERRIDE VETO ON ELECTION MONITORING LAW. The State Duma fell short of the 300 votes needed to override the Federation Council's veto of a law on election monitoring, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. The law would have allowed private citizens to become election monitors (current law only permits representatives of political parties to do so), and would have allowed local courts to declare an election invalid within their jurisdiction. It also proposed to fund a parallel count in a sample 2% of the districts. The Duma may appeal to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the law was passed on 17 April but only vetoed by the Council on 15 May. The constitution stipulates that with a few exceptions, laws not reviewed within two weeks by the Council are considered approved and sent to the president. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN PROMISES TO MAINTAIN STABILITY, PLAYS REGIONAL CARD. . . Campaigning in the Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk and Omsk, President Yeltsin played up his role as a guarantor of stability and a provider for his constituents' needs. In an interview with a Krasnoyarsk television company, Yeltsin promised not to "surrender the strategic, democratic heights" to forces opposing reform, NTV reported on 17 May. He told a group of supporters in Omsk, "I will not allow a civil war under any circumstances," Russian TV (RTR) reported on 19 May. The same day, the president signed a power-sharing agreement with the Omsk Oblast administration, and signed a decree to work out a long-term federal program for the social and economic development of Siberia, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin . . . AND HINTS OF IMPENDING CABINET RESHUFFLE. In a 19 May interview with an Omsk television company, President Yeltsin said he might be willing to appoint "fresher people" to his government in order to increase the public's confidence, ITAR-TASS reported. "Why not take interesting ideas from [Grigorii] Yavlinskii?" he asked rhetorically. The move indicates that Yeltsin is willing to meet some of Yavlinskii's demands for an electoral alliance. He already has gained the backing of most prominent figures in Russia's "democratic" camp. On 18 May, Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice officially endorsed Yeltsin's re-election bid, Russian media reported. -- Laura Belin MORE ON YAVLINSKII'S DEMANDS. The 18 May edition of Izvestiya published the full text of the letter Yavlinskii gave President Yeltsin during their 16 May meeting, which outlined in detail his "non-negotiable" terms for supporting the president. In addition to calling for an end to the war in Chechnya and significant changes in economic policy, the letter demanded that any decrees on economic and defense policy be signed by the prime minister as well as the president. It also said Yeltsin must accept the resignations of the prime minister, first deputy prime minister, defense minister, and chief of staff by 25 May--terms the president is unlikely to accept. Yeltsin said on 17 May that he had offered Yavlinskii the job of first deputy prime minister, but that Yavlinskii had insisted on more. Appearing on RTR on 19 May, Yavlinskii denied that he was seeking the post of prime minister for himself or issuing an "ultimatum" to Yeltsin. -- Laura Belin RUNOFF TO BE HELD IN ST. PETERSBURG ELECTION. Mayor Anatolii Sobchak and his former first deputy, Vladimir Yakovlev, will face each other in the runoff of St. Petersburg's gubernatorial election after the two finished first and second, respectively, in the first round on 19 May, Russian and Western media reported. Out of a field of 14 candidates, Sobchak received 28.8% to Yakovlev's 21.8%; turnout was about 49%. Four candidates withdrew from the race the day before the election, including local Yabloko leader Igor Artemev who threw his support behind Yakovlev, notorious local ultra-nationalist Yurii Belyaev, and hard-line Communist Yurii Terentev. The runoff is scheduled for 26 May. Sobchak won the 1991 mayoral election in the first round with 66% of the vote. -- Anna Paretskaya YELTSIN TO VISIT CHECHNYA REGARDLESS OF RISK. President Yeltsin has reaffirmed his intention to go through with his planned visit to Chechnya, according to Russian TV (RTR) on 18 May. Also on 18 May, pro- Moscow head of state Doku Zavgaev said that key questions relating to the Chechen economy and the 16 June Chechen parliamentary election will be resolved during Yeltsin's visit, NTV reported. On 17 May, the Duma adopted in principle an amnesty for both Russian and Chechen fighters in the Chechen war with the exception of those who perpetrated hostage- takings or terrorist acts, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. During talks at an undisclosed location in Chechnya on 16-17 May, acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and OSCE Grozny mission chairman Tim Guldimann discussed the possibility of Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev acting as mediator between the Russian government and the separatist Chechen leadership, NTV reported on 18 May. -- Liz Fuller MORE GOVERNORS SACKED FOR BUDGET MISUSE. President Yeltsin has dismissed the administration heads of Vologda and Amur oblasts, Nikolai Podgornov and Vladimir Dyachenko, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 17 May. Both governors were sacked for misusing federal budget funds, violating federal legislation, and accumulating wage arrears. Podgornov was already suspended from his post in March. The governors of Saratov and Arkhangelsk oblasts were sacked for the same reason in February. -- Anna Paretskaya RUSSIAN-BRITISH ESPIONAGE SCANDAL CLOSED? The ongoing espionage row between London and Moscow escalated on 17 May when Russia announced the expulsion of four British diplomats, Russian and Western agencies reported. Russia claims the expelled diplomats were intelligence agents who were implicated by a Russian citizen recently arrested on espionage charges. London immediately retaliated by expelling four Russian diplomats from Britain. Earlier, Russia had threatened to expel up to nine British diplomats, but negotiations appear to have produced a compromise. AFP, citing Interfax, quoted anonymous Russian diplomats as saying Russia regarded the mutual expulsions as closing the incident. However, on 18 May, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin called on London to reconsider its "unjustified and unacceptable" decision. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA OFFERS TO COMPENSATE UKRAINE FOR TACTICAL NUCLEAR WEAPONS. Russia has agreed to forgive $450 million worth of Ukraine's natural gas and oil debts as compensation for the tactical nuclear weapons given up by Ukraine in 1991, Reuters reported on 18 May, citing Ukrainian news agencies. The deal was supposedly struck by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma following the previous day's CIS summit meeting. The report quoted UNIAN as saying Chernomyrdin made the deal conditional on Ukrainian agreement to Russian proposals on dividing the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet, while citing Interfax as saying no progress had been made on this issue. -- Doug Clarke REACTIONS TO YELTSIN'S DECREE ON CONSCRIPTION. Responding to what many view as a campaign maneuver, Communist deputies attacked President Yeltsin's 16 May decree abolishing conscription, Russian agencies reported on 17 May. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Illyukhin (KPRF) challenged Yeltsin's authority to decree such a change, arguing that it requires new federal legislation. Lt. Gen. Mikhail Surkov (KPRF), deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, said Russia cannot afford a professional army because every volunteer costs 4-5 times more than a conscript. However, Nikolai Yegorov, head of the presidential administration, contended on 18 May that the financial implications of the decree can be covered by the federal budget. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin commissioned Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and other security ministers to begin preparations for the transition to a professional army. -- Doug Clarke and Constantine Dmitriev RUSSIAN "DAVOS" FORUM CONVENES. Business and political representatives from 63 regions gathered in Yekaterinburg on 17 May for the opening of the "Russian economic forum," sponsored by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. The meeting formed a new organization, "For the socio-economic progress of Russia," which aspires to represent regional interests in Moscow. Little seems to have emerged by way of concrete proposals, other than the usual calls for tax reform, respect for the law, and compensation for defrauded investors. Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov told the gathering that the presidential election is a "nightmare" for the Russian economy, because it has caused a surge in federal spending, while scaring away foreign investors. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPING MANDATE IN ABKHAZIA EXTENDED. Participants in the CIS summit in Moscow on 17 May endorsed the agreement taken on 16 May by CIS foreign ministers to extend for a further two months the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping troops currently deployed along the border between the breakaway republic of Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Western agencies reported. The Georgian parliament has for months demanded, without success, that the peacekeepers' mandate be broadened to enable them to defend ethnic Georgian refugees who wish to return to their homes in Abkhazia. -- Liz Fuller GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS UNITE. The Stalinist Communist Party of Georgia decided on 18 May to unite with the Georgian Communist Party, led by Ivane Tsiklauri, and part of the United Communist Party, led by Panteleimon Giorgadze, Iprinda news agency reported same day. The Stalinist party's plenary session also decided that its leader, Grigol Oniani, would work as acting first secretary of the new party's central committee until its first congress, scheduled for 6 September. -- Irakli Tsereteli RUSSIAN-AZERBAIJANI BORDER AGREEMENT. President Yeltsin and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, signed an agreement in Moscow on 17 May aimed at strengthening border controls between Dagestan and Azerbaijan, AFP reported, citing Interfax. The agreement covers information exchanges; joint measures to fight terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, and illegal immigration into Russia; and the joint training of border troops. It is not clear whether the agreement provides for the deployment Russian troops on Azerbaijani territory. -- Liz Fuller CONFUSION CONTINUES IN TAJIKISTAN. Sixty-four government soldiers are reported to have been killed during heavy fighting near the town of Komsomolabad in the Tavil-Dara region on 15-16 May, according to NTV. Tajik Interior Ministry troops and members of the CIS peacekeeping force have set up checkpoints on the road from Komsomolabad to Dushanbe. Meanwhile, the demonstrations in the northern Tajik cities of Khojent, Ura-Tyube, Shakhristan, and Isfana appear to have ended, RFE/RL reported on 18 May. The protesters demanded the equal distribution of humanitarian aid, an adequate supply of food, and the removal of local government officials. About 75 officials in the north are reported to have been replaced already. In other news, AFP reported on 19 May that the Tajik opposition has agreed to extend the ceasefire that was due to expire on 26 May. -- 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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