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No. 100, Part I, 23 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 GRACHEV FORESEES CHECHNYA WITHDRAWAL . . . Russian troops will be withdrawn from Chechnya between 1 June and 1 August, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told a meeting of military officers in Yekaterinburg on 22 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, a high-ranking military officer told the agency that there were more than 41,000 federal troops in the republic, some 19,000 belonging to the Defense Ministry. Grachev said that after the pullout, only units of the North Caucasus military district would remain in Chechnya. Previously, he had said this would include an army motorized-rifle brigade and a division of Interior Troops. -- Doug Clarke . . . WHILE TROOPS SUFFER HEAVY LOSSES. At least 22 Russian servicemen were killed and 48 wounded on 22 May while trying to capture the Chechen village of Bamut, ITAR-TASS reported. A report on NTV put the number of Russian dead at 70. For the past year, Chechen separatists have been holed-up in the bunkers and tunnels of a former Soviet nuclear missile silo complex at Bamut. A Defense Ministry spokesman said "only the taking of Bamut can open the way for a Yeltsin visit to Chechnya," ITAR TASS reported. The Chechen prime minister, Nikolai Koshman, claimed that Bamut was the "rebel's last stronghold" and predicted the fighting would be over "within two or three days." -- Doug Clarke COMMUNISTS PREDICT YELTSIN WILL STEAL ELECTION. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading member of the Communist Party (KPRF), predicted on 22 May that "Boris Yeltsin will be appointed for a second term, although Gennadii Zyuganov will win [the election]," ITAR- TASS reported. KPRF Duma deputy and campaign manager Valentin Kuptsov added that he considers Central Electoral Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov "Yeltsin's man" and does not trust him to carry out an honest vote count. Meanwhile, accusing Yeltsin of being afraid of a direct dialog, Zyuganov again invited the president to debate him on live television, Russian TV (RTR) reported. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN DECREE BOOSTS KORZHAKOV. President Yeltsin signed a decree on 22 April that gives Presidential Security Service (SBP) head Aleksandr Korzhakov "the rights" of a federal minister, apparently elevating him to cabinet status, according to the text of the decree published in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 21 May. It also designates Korzhakov as "first adviser" to the president, a title previously reserved only for presidential adviser Viktor Ilyushin. The SBP is granted broad powers by the decree, including "insuring the prestige of the president," and the "exposure, prevention, and neutralization" of activity by foreign intelligence services. The conservative Korzhakov's role in the presidential apparatus has often been controversial, most recently when he proposed postponing the upcoming presidential election. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN FIRES TOP SOCIAL WELFARE OFFICIALS. President Yeltsin fired Yurii Shatyrenko, head of the Social Insurance Fund, and Yevgenii Belyaev, head of State Committee for Sanitary and Epidemiological Inspection, on 22 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Both were accused of mismanagement leading to abuse of funds. Shatyrenko was charged with "gross violations of his duties leading to the financial instability of the fund and rising social tension." An audit of the sanitary service revealed almost one quarter of the allotted funds had been misspent. On 13 May, Yeltsin had fired the head of the Federal Employment Service, Fedor Prokopov, for inefficiency. Also on 22 May, the Duma approved on first reading a long-delayed bill tightening legal penalties for bribe- taking. -- Peter Rutland ZHIRINOVSKY BLASTS WEST. Ultranationalist presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky blamed the West for Russia's decline during two 10- minute free campaign broadcasts aired by Russian Public TV (ORT) on 22 May. U.S. President Bill Clinton, claimed Zhirinovsky, is Russia's "main enemy," adding that Clinton "had accomplished what Hitler couldn't." He listed Russia's "opponents" as the U.S., NATO, Turkey, and China, while urging closer ties with Libya, Iraq, Iran, India, and Eastern Europe. Zhirinovsky slammed plans for NATO expansion, saying NATO troops would soon be near Smolensk, and would "swallow up the territory of Russia." Zhirinovsky also proposed abolishing Russia's ethnic administrative units, claiming that they consume a disproportional share of the federal budget, impoverishing the "Russian" areas of the country. -- Scott Parrish ITAR-TASS COMMENTATOR DEFENDS CAMPAIGN COVERAGE. Arguing that the "liberal Russian press" is trying to be objective, Tamara Zamyatina, a commentator for the state-run agency ITAR-TASS, on 22 May defended journalists against criticism that campaign coverage has been biased in favor of President Yeltsin. She said the media are entitled to point out inaccuracies in Gennadii Zyuganov's campaign speeches. She added that the Kremlin routinely accepts criticism for which editors would have been fired during the Soviet era. Zamyatina argued that journalists continue to denounce some of the president's policies, including the war in Chechnya and personnel questions. "Not a single publication" supported the idea of postponing the presidential election, which was floated recently by Yeltsin's top bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, she observed. -- Laura Belin LAW ON TRANSFER OF POWER APPROVED IN SECOND READING. The Duma passed in the second reading a draft law establishing the procedure for transferring power to a newly-elected president, Russian media reported on 22 May. Under the proposed law, the new president would be sworn in on the 30th day after election results are officially released, at which time the government serving under the outgoing president would have to resign. During the month before taking office, the president-elect would be allowed to attend meetings of the Security Council and other federal agencies. According to Communist Duma deputy Oleg Mironov of the Legislation Committee, the Duma made nearly all the changes recommended by President Yeltsin when the law was first proposed, RTR reported. On the same day, the Duma again failed to override the Federation Council's veto of the law on election monitoring (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 May 1996), NTV reported. -- Laura Belin DEPUTY JUSTICE MINISTER SHOT DEAD. Deputy Justice Minister Anatolii Stepanov was killed at his home in Moscow by a gun shot to the head on the morning of 23 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepanov's responsibilities included supervision of the work of attorneys and notaries. -- Peter Rutland RUSSIA, CUBA SIGN AGREEMENTS. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and his Cuban counterpart, Roberto Robaina, signed a joint declaration of principles and a cultural and technical cooperation agreement in Havana on 22 May, international media reported. Primakov, on the second stop of a three-county Latin American tour, specifically emphasized the independence of Russia's policy toward Cuba, saying that the recent U.S. tightening of its long-standing embargo of the island would not affect Russian-Cuban ties. He also branded the Helms-Burton law which toughened the embargo as "unacceptable." On 23 May, Primakov, the first Russian foreign minister to visit Cuba since the collapse of the USSR, also held talks with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA DENIES SELLING MISSILE TECHNOLOGY TO CHINA. Russian diplomats dismissed concerns expressed by U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry that China is attempting to purchase SS-18 missile technology from Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 May 1993). The agency cited anonymous "high-ranking" diplomats as saying that Perry's statement "appears incorrect," although they added that Russia is studying the U.S. claims. The diplomats said that since Perry had not specified exactly what type of technology China was interested in, and had suggested that "non-governmental" organizations in Russia might be involved in unauthorized export activities, it would take time to fully investigate the charges. -- Scott Parrish SAKHALIN OIL VENTURE SET TO BEGIN. Marathon, McDermott, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, and Shell announced on 21 May that they will start work on their Sakhalin-2 off-shore oil venture, Reuters reported. Fuel and Energy Minister Yurii Shafranik told ITAR TASS that the $10 billion project is the biggest joint venture in Russia. A total of $60 million is expected to be spent on preparatory work this year. However, Frank Duffield, head of the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company which is running the operation, said: "A great deal of work remains to be done before we can actually see development on the ground." The international partners are concerned about access to export pipelines and ambiguities in last- year's production sharing law--for example, over recourse to international arbitration in the event of contract disputes. Sakhalin-1, another $12 billion project involving Exxon and Japan's Sodeco, has not yet announced when it will start operations. -- Peter Rutland NEW LAND CODE BANS SALE OF FARM LAND. The Duma finally passed on 22 May a new draft land code by a vote of 288-18, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 22 May. However, while the bill allows Russian citizens to inherit and lease farmland, it forbids the buying, selling, or mortgaging of such land. Under the code, state and municipal farmland can only be sold to Russian citizens who underwent agricultural training or have equivalent experience. Such owners are not allowed to sell land to a new private owner: land can be redistributed only by lease or inheritance. Foreigners are only allowed to lease farmland. Government officials and many experts argue that the draft code contradicts the constitutional right to free private ownership of land. It is likely that the Federation Council and the president will veto the bill, in which case Yeltsin's March 1996 decree allowing partial sale of land will continue to be in force. -- Natalia Gurushina MAJOR BANK FACES INSOLVENCY. The Central Bank has appointed an administrator to take over Unikombank, one of the 20 largest private banks in Russia, Kommersant-Daily reported on 22 May. The administrator, Tatyana Artemova, is a deputy chairwoman of the Central Bank. About six months ago, Unikombank was finding it difficult to meet its obligations and approached the Central Bank for a 300 billion ruble ($60 million) loan. BIN bank, who has just spent 67 billion rubles to acquire a controlling interest in Unikombank, objected to the appointment of the Central Bank administrator. BIN bank has been under scrutiny for its activities in the so-called "off-shore" banking zone in the North Caucasian republic of Ingushetiya. -- Natalia Gurushina WORKERS SEIZE WEAPONS. More than 1,000 workers in a defense plant in Murom, Vladimir Oblast, have occupied a workshop in which arms are produced, ITAR TASS reported on 23 May. They are protesting the five- month delay in the payment of their wages. The workers are owed a total of 5 billion rubles ($1 million), and the plant claims it is owed 40 billion rubles by the government for past deliveries. City Mayor Petr Kaurov expressed concern over how the workers would use the weapons, and has approached the local branch of the Savings Bank for an emergency loan of 2 billion rubles. -- Peter Rutland TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT AGAINST RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN TBILISI? The cars of Col. Gen. Fedor Reut, commander of the Russian forces in Transcaucasus, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Vasilii Belchenko, have been shot at in Tbilisi, Russian media reported on 22 May. The generals had been driving along Shota Rustaveli Avenue. A bullet allegedly broke the windshield and the rear window of Belchenko's car, but nobody was hurt. Georgian authorities denied the reports, saying that Belchenko's car was damaged by a stone and that Reut was not in Tbilisi that day. The same day, Reut travelled to Yerevan to join a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Soviet troops in the Transcaucasus. -- Irakli Tsereteli GEORGIAN COMMUNISTS DENY UNIFICATION REPORTS. The press center of the Georgian United Communist Party (GUCP) described recent reports that the country's various communist groups are uniting as "misinformation (that) is intended to discredit the communist movement in Georgia," Iprinda reported on 20 May. According to the statement, the 18 May meeting of the Stalinist Communist Party of Georgia was "another provocative farce." -- Irakli Tsereteli BOMBERS ARRESTED IN KYRGYZSTAN. A group of former police officers who were "dismissed for blatant violations of the law" have been arrested in connection with a series of explosions at Interior Ministry buildings in April, according to an 11 May article in Ekho Osha cited by the BBC. The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said the bombs were planted as a warning to new Interior Minister Omurbek Kutuyev who recently launched an anti- corruption campaign. Two bombs went off near the ministry buildings in the early morning of 20 April. Another pipe bomb, located in one of the capital's main squares, had been defused in early May, RFE/RL reported. No casualties or damage have been reported. -- Bruce Pannier BATTLE CONTINUES IN TAVIL-DARA, OPPOSITION TO RELEASE PRISONERS. Government forces are reported to be on the offensive again in the Komsomolabad region. Tajik presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov said government forces are still in control of Komsomolabad though the situation is "highly complicated," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May. Guerrillas in the Tavil-Dara and Garm regions have attacked repeatedly since the beginning of May, killing more than 50 government soldiers. Meanwhile, RTR reported on 22 May that the opposition will release 26 prisoners of war on 28 May. The 26 soldiers are among 400 the opposition claims to have captured during recent fighting in the Tavil-Dara area. Opposition leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda said their relatives could come and collect them but added that all the prisoners are in poor condition owing to the government's refusal to allow humanitarian aid to the region. -- 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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