Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought. - Albert Szent-Gyorgyi
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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withdrawn from Chechnya between 1 June and 1 August, Defense Minister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

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