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No. 155, Part I, 12 July 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 HEAVY FIGHTING CONTINUES IN GROZNY. Fierce street fighting continued for a seventh day on 12 August and showed little sign of abating, despite efforts over the weekend by federal troops backed by artillery, tanks, and helicopter gunships to blast Chechen fighters out of the city, Russian and Western agencies reported. On 9 August, NTV reported that federal troops had lost control over much of the city, and were reduced to defending isolated positions. Late on 11 August, reinforcements reached the besieged government complex in the city center, from which several trapped journalists had been broadcasting reports contradicting official dispatches that federal troops were gaining the upper hand in the fighting. Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said on 11 August that 169 Russian troops have been killed and 618 wounded, but separatist spokesmen say up to 1,000 federal troops have died. Fighting is also reported in Gudermes and Argun, the two largest towns in Chechnya after Grozny. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN DISPATCHES LEBED TO CHECHNYA. President Boris Yeltsin appointed Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed as his representative in Chechnya, Russian and Western agencies reported on 10 August. Lebed replaces Oleg Lobov, who had held the position since August 1995. On 11 August, Lebed flew to Dagestan, which borders on Chechnya, saying "there is no military solution" to the conflict. A spokesman added that Lebed views an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Chechen fighters from Grozny as the basis for renewed negotiations. According to ITAR-TASS on 12 August, Lebed drove from Dagestan to Starye Atagi, a Chechen village about 20 km south of Grozny, to meet Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov. While details of the talks were not released, Reuters cited a separatist spokesman as saying that the two men had agreed that "real and extreme" steps should be taken to end the fighting. -- Scott Parrish DUMA APPROVES CHERNOMYRDIN. The Duma voted on 10 August to confirm President Yeltsin's reappointment of Viktor Chernomyrdin to the post of prime minister by a vote of 314-85 with three abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. The constitution requires that the Duma approve a prime minister by at least 226 votes following presidential elections. To save face, the Duma Council, controlled by the opposition, decided to make the confidence vote a secret ballot. The discussion preceding the vote was relatively formal with Chernomyrdin giving a generally positive account of his performance as prime minister since the end of 1992, although he admitted some errors. Deputies asked only limited questions about Chechnya and the nonpayment and energy crisis in the Far East. Chernomyrdin denied that he is "one of the richest men in Russia," an assertion frequently heard because of his close ties to the gas monopoly Gazprom. Yeltsin did not personally present Chernomyrdin to the Duma as had been expected. -- Robert Orttung REACTION TO DUMA VOTE. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that he approved a vote of confidence in Chernomyrdin to give him a chance to stop the disintegration of the Russian state, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 10 August. Zyuganov said that a power vacuum has been created in Russia because "the president is on permanent leave, the government has resigned, and the Duma is ineffective." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii did not appear in the Duma during the vote, NTV reported on 11 August. However, his deputy, Vladimir Lukin, said that the freely-elected president has the right to pick his own cabinet. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that he supported Chernomyrdin because Yeltsin would have otherwise nominated Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais as prime minister, forcing the Duma to reject him three times and allowing the president to call early Duma elections. Only Our Home Is Russia enthusiastically backed Chernomyrdin. -- Robert Orttung TULEEV CALLS ON COMMUNISTS TO JOIN GOVERNMENT. Former presidential candidate Aman Tuleev has called on the Communist Party to start negotiations with Chernomyrdin about joining a coalition government, ORT reported on 11 August. He said the Communists cannot ignore the opinion of millions of Russians who voted for Yeltsin and that they should set aside party concerns to work with the government. Tuleev is a not a member of the Communist Party, but ran in the number three slot on its list in the Duma election and withdrew his presidential candidacy in favor of Zyuganov. Chernomyrdin is expected to unveil his cabinet later this week. -- Robert Orttung DUMA CALLS FOR STATE OF EMERGENCY IN CHECHNYA. In a special session following the vote to approve Chernomyrdin on 10 August, the Duma recommended that the president formally impose a state of emergency on Chechnya, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. The move is meaningless, since such a decree would require the approval of the Federation Council, which is on vacation until October, and there is no law defining how to implement a state of emergency although the constitution requires one. During the Duma session, Interior Minister Kulikov said that the rebels managed to enter Grozny because there were no defenses in place to protect the city, except for a few road checkpoints, and because there are not enough men and equipment due to the domestic economic crisis. The Duma also set up a consultative council on the Caucasus, to be chaired by Deputy Speaker Mikhail Gutseriev, that will study ethnic problems in the region. -- Robert Orttung and Anna Paretskaya CHERNOMYRDIN: MILITARY IN CHECHNYA MUST BE REINFORCED. A special session of the State Commission on Regulating the Chechen Conflict met on 11 August, chaired by newly-reconfirmed Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Russian media reported. Speaking after the session, Chernomyrdin said that federal forces in Chechnya must be reinforced and the crisis in Grozny resolved before any new negotiations on ending the conflict can begin. He added that in response to the Duma's request, the Justice Ministry is preparing the legal framework for declaring a state of emergency in Chechnya, although he said both the president and the Federation Council would have to approve before it could be implemented. Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev, however, said after the meeting that Chernomyrdin's remarks do not mean that more federal troops will be sent to Chechnya, and he emphasized that only negotiations can resolve the conflict. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN DECLARES DAY OF MOURNING FOR CHECHNYA VICTIMS, INITIATES INVESTIGATION. President Yeltsin declared 10 August a day of mourning for victims of the current fighting in Grozny, Russian media reported on 9 August. He said state flags should be flown at half-mast throughout the country, and recommended that cultural institutions and broadcasters cancel all entertainment programs and activities on that day. Yeltsin described the seizure of Grozny by rebel Chechens as a well prepared attempt to scuttle the peace process with the federal government. Yeltsin also ordered Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov to launch an investigation into the attack on Grozny and to assess the behavior of Russian officials during the attack. -- Anna Paretskaya GROZNY FIGHTING TRIGGERS REFUGEE CRISIS. The heavy fighting in Grozny has trapped thousands of civilians in basements and other shelters throughout the city, NTV reported on 10 August. While many prefer to hide rather than risk death by fleeing, several thousand others have begun to leave parts of Grozny where the fighting is less intense. The network said a column of refugees several kilometers long is streaming out of the city. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported on 9 August that 3,500 Chechen refugees have fled into neighboring Dagestan over the last three weeks, 500 of whom have arrived since the renewed fighting broke out in Grozny. -- Scott Parrish CHERNOMYRDIN PROPOSES POSTPONEMENT OF REGIONAL ELECTIONS . . . Prime Minister Chernomyrdin suggested in a meeting with representatives of the Duma's "Popular Power" faction that the regional elections could be postponed until next year, Segodnya reported on 9 August. He complained that the country's economy barely survived the serious shortfall of taxes that has occurred as a result of the presidential election. Meanwhile, Agrarian Party (APR) leader Mikhail Lapshin announced that his party will field gubernatorial candidates in about 15 regions, Radio Mayak reported on 11 August. Despite its failure in the 1995 Duma election, the party will also participate in elections to regional legislatures and local self-government institutions. About 50 governors and 30 legislatures are to be elected by the end of the year. -- Anna Paretskaya . . . DISCUSSES THE ECONOMY. Chernomyrdin said the battle against inflation is nearly over and the government's next step will be structural reform and industrial growth, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 10 August. He noted that ruble stabilization and the falling inflation rate (0.7% in July) should provide a basis for GDP growth of 14-15% and a 5% increase in per capita consumption by the year 2000. He stressed that the government will increase social spending to fulfill President Yeltsin's pre-election promises--which he said is worth an estimated 800 billion rubles ($152 million). The money will be raised by increasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and jewelry, and by cutting the number of federal ministries from 90 to about 60. The new custom duties on shuttle-traders (chelnoki) should bring in another $2 billion, he said. -- Natalia Gurushina ANOTHER BOMB EXPLODES. Eight people were injured when a bomb exploded on a train traveling from Astrakhan to Volgograd on 12 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The blast, the third incident on this railway line in the last month, occurred about 15 km outside Volgograd. Two days earlier, bomb disposal experts defused a device found at an intersection near Moscow's Vnukovo Airport. It is still unclear who is behind the recent series of bomb explosions and bomb scares on Russia's public transport system, but many believe there is a Chechen connection. Segodnya reported on 8 August that 449 crimes involving the use of explosives have been committed since the beginning of this year. Since 1995, the paper said, 34 metric tons of explosives have been stolen from warehouses, many of which belong to the Defense Ministry. -- Penny Morvant MINERS' STRIKES CONTINUE. About 500 miners at the Tulaugol pits in the Moscow coal basin are striking to protest a five-month delay in the payment of their wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 August. Fourteen miners have been on a hunger strike in the region for more than a week, while their colleagues have refused to work. Protest actions are also continuing in the eastern Donbass, with miners at 22 of Rostovugol's 23 pits taking some form of action, Izvestiya reported on 10 August. That day, about 3,000 angry miners took to the streets of Novoshakhtinsk to protest five-month wage arrears. On 9 August, several hundred miners took part in a protest meeting in the mining town Artem. Ten of the 14 pits in Primore are working, although miners have yet to receive all the money they are owed, Trud reported. -- Penny Morvant TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA "WANTED" AZERBAIJANIS HIDING IN TURKEY. Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov was quoted by Yeni Yuzyil on 10 August as saying many of the fugitives wanted in his country, "including those wanted for treason," are hiding in Turkey. He said his government has sought their extradition repeatedly, but Ankara has been unable to locate any of them to date. Turkey has denied these charges. In other news, the Turkish Daily News quoted the Azerbaijani Ambassador in Ankara, Mehmet Nevruzoglu, as saying the plans of the "secret" Armenian lobby in Turkey, which aims to open the Turkish-Armenian border for economic reasons, could hurt bilateral ties between Baku and Ankara. -- Lowell Bezanis ARMENIA UPDATE. Armenian authorities have detained and disarmed a "large" number of what they described as Kurdish resistance fighters near the village of Tsorevan on the border with Turkey, Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 8 August. In other news, two high-ranking officers of the Armenian Interior Ministry--one responsible for personnel and the other for passports and visas--were sacked on 8 August for abusing their positions. Fifty people were hospitalized in the wake of an outbreak of typhoid in Vanadzor, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. -- Lowell Bezanis KAZAKHSTANI OIL TO RUN THROUGH IRAN. Kazakhstani and Iranian officials signed an agreement in Almaty on 10 August that gives Kazakhstan access to Iranian ports on the Persian Gulf, Radio Mayak and RFE/RL reported. Kazakhstan will ship 2 million metric tons of crude oil annually to Iranian ports on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, where it will be loaded and shipped south to the gulf. Iran will refine the oil and use some of it for domestic consumption. Last week, an ITAR-TASS report claimed that negotiations on this deal had stalled (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 August 1996). -- Bruce Pannier SHOOT-OUT IN WEST TAJIKISTAN. Seven people died and six people were wounded in a 10 August gunfight that broke out between rival gangs in the western Tajik town of Tursun Zade, Reuters reported. Officials in Tursun Zade stressed that the shoot-out was an isolated incident that had no political implications. An armed revolt took place in the town in late January. -- 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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