To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life. - Gelett Burgess
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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

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