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OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 236, Part I, 9 December 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 OMRI Daily Digest, and other information about OMRI, are
available through OMRI's WWW pages: http://www.omri.cz/Index.html

RUSSIA

DUMA POSTPONES BUDGET VOTE UNTIL 15 DECEMBER. The Duma decided on 6
December to postpone voting on the revised 1997 budget until 15
December, ITAR-TASS reported. The draft budget prepared by the
government-parliament conciliatory commission is opposed by all
parliamentary factions except Our Home is Russia and the Liberal
Democratic Party of Russia, whose leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky changed
his position at the last moment, urging postponement rather than
outright rejection. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov slammed the
budget, saying that "the state is bankrupt, the president is ill, the
government is helpless, and the Duma is powerless." Observers suggest
that some factions may be willing to vote for the budget in exchange for
the dismissal of Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais or other
government changes. -- Natalia Gurushina

YELTSIN NAMES SHAKHRAI TO KEY POSTS. President Boris Yeltsin on 7
December appointed Duma member Sergei Shakhrai as deputy chief of staff
and his representative to the Constitutional Court. Since Chief of Staff
Anatolii Chubais and Shakrai are known to have bad relations, NTV
characterized Shakhrai's appointment as Yeltsin's first post-operation
move to establish checks on Chubais's power. Until now, Chubais had
named the leaders of the administration staff independently. Shakhrai is
not very popular in Russia, viewed by the public as being partly
responsible for the administration's failed policies in Chechnya, and
hated by the opposition for its role in the Belavezha meeting which
ended the Soviet Union and the Constitutional Court case banning the
Communist Party. Since 1991 he has held, and been fired from, a large
number of high government posts under Yeltsin, covering nationalities
issues, regional policy, and the media. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN, STROEV MEET. Yeltsin addressed some of Federation Council
Chairman Yegor Stroev's concerns in a 6 December meeting by saying that
he would personally oversee the timely payment of pensions and salaries
once he returns to the Kremlin on 25 December, Russian TV (RTR)
reported. Following Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's failure to
appear in the Federation Council on 4 December, the upper house invited
him to speak at a special 10 December session, but it is not clear if he
will appear this time either, Kommersant-Daily reported on 6 December.
NTV argued that government Chief of Staff Vladimir Babichev made a
serious tactical error in telling Stroev that the constitution did not
require Chernomyrdin to appear when the Federation Council summoned him.
Chernomyrdin did address the State Duma on 6 December, promising action
on wage and pension arrears. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN TO MEET KOHL, CHIRAC. Presidential Press Secretary Sergei
Yastrzhembskii announced on 6 December that Yeltsin and German
Chancellor Helmut Kohl have agreed to meet on 4 January, Russian and
Western media reported. The one-day meeting will take place at Yeltsin's
country residence in Zavidovo, about 100 km north of Moscow. Kohl will
be the first Western leader to meet Yeltsin since his heart surgery. On
8 December, the presidential press service told ITAR-TASS that Yeltsin
and French President Jacques Chirac have also agreed to hold a brief
meeting in Moscow in early January, although no exact date has been set.
Like the recent announcement of a Yeltsin-Clinton summit in March, these
visits aim to show that Yeltsin is reassuming the leadership of Russian
foreign policy. -- Scott Parrish

CHECHEN ELECTION UPDATE. Nineteen candidates announced their intention
to contest the Chechen presidential election by the 7 December deadline,
AFP reported. That day, former Russian parliament Speaker Ruslan
Khasbulatov announced that he will not run, Ekho Moskvy reported.
Presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held on 27 January.
It is not yet clear whether Vakha Arsanov will agree to acting premier
Aslan Maskhadov's proposal to become his running mate; both men have
already collected the 10,000 signatures in their support which must be
submitted to the Central Electoral Commission by 27 December. Shamil
Beno, leader of the Daimokhk (Motherland) party, called on Chechen
voters to register as early as possible; Russian Security Council
secretary Ivan Rybkin had told journalists on 6 December after visiting
Grozny the previous day that lists of voters would be ready by the end
of this week. Polling stations will be established in Stavropol,
Ingushetiya, and Dagestan for refugees from Chechnya. Also on 7
December, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev again called for
the postponement of the elections on the grounds that preparations had
run into "major difficulties," Reuters reported, quoting NTV. -- Liz
Fuller

RUSSIAN COMMENTATORS WARY OF ALBRIGHT APPOINTMENT. Foreign Minister
Yevgenii Primakov reacted positively to the 5 December appointment of
Madeleine Albright as U.S. Secretary of State, calling her a
"professional" and a "good partner for dialogue," Russian and Western
media reported on 6 December. But many Russian commentators were less
diplomatic, and expressed worry that her appointment signals that
Washington will take a harsher line with Moscow during Clinton's second
term. Segodnya on 7 December said the appointment of the Czech-born
diplomat "creates colossal problems" for the Russian Foreign Ministry,
citing her firm backing of NATO enlargement and her reputation for tough
bargaining. On the same day, Izvestiya speculated that Albright's
background makes her "inclined toward confrontation" with Moscow, while
NTV said her appointment signals the strengthening of "anti-Russian
forces" in Washington. -- Scott Parrish

BEREZOVSKII, CHUBAIS RESIGN FROM RUSSIAN PUBLIC TV (ORT) BOARD.
Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Deputy Secretary of the
Security Council Boris Berezovskii gave up their positions on the ORT
Board of Directors at the 7 December shareholders' meeting, ITAR-TASS
reported. In their place, the board appointed four new members: State
Privatization Committee head Alfred Kokh, Presidential Business Manager
Pavel Borodin, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksander Vavilov, and
Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Maksim Boiko. The state holds a 51%
stake in ORT, and the largest private shareholders are Gazprom,
Stolichnyi Bank, and Berezovskii's LogoVAZ company. Berezovskii is
considered by many as the key person in defining the TV channel's
content and policies. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

MORE INCUMBENTS LOSE . . . Following the 8 December voting, incumbents
have won only 14 of 30 gubernatorial elections completed since 1
September. Opposition-backed candidates defeated incumbent governors in
Bryansk, Voronezh, and Vladimir oblasts on 8 December, RTR reported the
next day. Duma Deputy Yurii Lodkin received 54% of the vote, twice as
much as the Bryansk incumbent Aleksandr Semernev. Voronezh Oblast
legislature chairman Ivan Shabanov outpolled Governor Aleksandr Tsapin
by about 8%, receiving slightly less than 50% of the vote. Vladimir
Oblast legislature chairman Nikolai Vinogradov won more than 60% of the
vote, three times more than the incumbent governor, Yurii Vlasov.
Additionally, 67% of the voters backed Oleg Bogomolov, the chairman of
the Kurgan Oblast legislature, in the second round of elections there,
while 33% voted against him. He was the only candidate in the run-off
since the others withdrew. The courts have yet to rule on whether the
vote was valid. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

. . . BUT SOME WIN, AND OTHERS FACE TOUGH RUN-OFFS. Viktor Ishaev of
Khabarovsk Krai secured reelection, sweeping 77% of the vote, while his
main rival, businessman and Duma deputy Valentin Tsoi, supported by the
opposition, received 7%. Anatolii Guvhvin, Astrakhan Oblast governor,
was reelected with 52% support, while his competitor, Duma deputy
Vyacheslav Zvolinskii, obtained 40% of the vote. A second round will be
held in Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Perm, and Ryazan oblasts on 22 December,
where the incumbents will be challenged by opposition candidates. The
incumbents are trailing in Kostroma and Ryazan, and have done poorly in
previous runoffs. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

KOSTROMA VOTERS REJECT NUCLEAR POWER STATION. In a referendum on 8
December, Kostroma voters rejected by 87% to 10% a proposal to complete
the construction of a nuclear power station in the province, ITAR-TASS
reported. The local anti-nuclear group "In the Name of Life" collected
36,000 signatures to call the referendum -- well above the 10,000 legal
requirement. This was the activists' second try: a 1993 petition, with
16,000 signatures, was declared invalid. The Ministry of Nuclear Energy
campaigned in favor of completion, saying the station would create
20,000 jobs. Work began on the station in 1981, was suspended in 1990 in
light of the 1986 Chornobyl accident, but was restarted in 1992. The
referendum, the first of its kind in Russia, is legally binding since
turnout was 59% - above the required 50%, Reuters reported. -- Peter
Rutland

MINERS' STRIKE CONTINUES. The nationwide strike by coalminers entered
its seventh day on 9 December, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. On 7 December
the miners' union presidium voted to continue the strike. The miners are
protesting wage arrears of 400 billion rubles ($70 million). Despite
earlier reports of an impending visit, neither Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin nor First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin have yet
traveled to the Kuzbass, the major coal region, to placate the miners.
On 7 December 90,000 teachers in 27 regions also began a strike over
unpaid wages. Teachers' union spokesman Vladimir Yakovlev told ITAR-TASS
on 9 December that the nation's teachers are owed 6.5 trillion rubles
($1.2 billion) in back pay. A hunger strike by 13 workers at the
Sosnovyi Bor nuclear station near St. Petersburg that began on 30
November ended on 8 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The government has
promised to send 27 billion rubles to the plant by 28 December to clear
wage arrears. -- Peter Rutland

TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ TALKS. Russian, Georgian, and Abkhaz
representatives agreed at talks in Moscow on 4-7 December to continue
work on a draft document on the foundations for regulating the conflict,
confidence-building, and the repatriation of ethnic Georgian refugees,
ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili met
in Moscow on 6 December with his Russian counterpart Yevgenii Primakov
to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations, including the
division of the Black Sea fleet, Russia's military bases in Georgia,
joint patrolling of the Georgian-Turkish frontier, and the Abkhaz
conflict, Russian media reported. At a subsequent press conference
Primakov announced that ethnic Georgian refugees from Abkhazia will
begin returning to their homes in January. During several days of
simultaneous talks in Moscow, Georgian Interior Minister Shota Kviraya
solicited the assistance of his Russian counterpart Anatolii Kulikov in
preventing the creation of an Islamic Republic in the Caucasus that
would include Abkhazia, according to NTV. -- Liz Fuller

RUSSIAN BORDER TROOP COMMANDER IN ARMENIA. Gen. Andrei Nikolaev
completed a one-day visit to Armenia after holding a long private
meeting with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL
reported on 8 December. Nikolaev said that the Armenian leadership
supports the presence of Russian troops on its borders with Turkey and
Iran, and that he is satisfied with the results of the visit. According
to Nikolaev, Ter-Petrossyan called for "additional measures" to
strengthen the CIS's external borders. Nikolaev ruled out the
possibility of a withdrawal of the Russian border troops from Georgia,
arguing that all the problems with the latter "have been settled" during
his recent visit to that country, Noyan Tapan reported on 6 December. --
Emil Danielyan

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER'S PLANE FORCED DOWN. A plane taking United Tajik
Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri to his scheduled 9 December
meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in northern Afghanistan
was forced down by aircraft of the Taliban movement, Russian and Western
sources reported. Taliban sources say Nuri is a "guest" and they will
allow him to continue on to the meeting point in Kunduz. Rakhmonov, in
Dushanbe, is waiting for word of Nuri's arrival at Kunduz before leaving
for the meeting. Fighting inside Tajikistan is at its worst since the
civil war of 1992. Government forces are reported to be assaulting
Komsomolabad (135 km east of Dushanbe), which fell to the opposition in
October. Fighting is also reported in the Tavil-Dara area (200 km east
of Dushanbe) and in the village of Chinor (60 km east of Dushanbe) near
the Nurek hydro-electric plant. -- Bruce Pannier

DEMONSTRATION IN KAZAKSTAN. Over 3,000 people gathered in front of the
Academy of Sciences in Almaty on 8 December to protest living
conditions, international media reported. Signs with the words
"Salaries," "Pensions," "Free Press," and " Democracy" were burned and
symbolically placed in small caskets. People shouted slogans such as
"Nazarbayev (the Kazakstani president), you are our Hitler," "President
Nazarbayev's credit with the people is finished" and most alarmingly,
"Remember what happened to Najibullah" alluding to the former Afghan
leader who was dragged from the UN compound in Kabul, killed, and hung
in public. There are chronic energy shortages in the country and wage
and pension arrears, by some accounts, stand at $500 million. -- Bruce
Pannier

TENGIZ PIPELINE DEAL FINALIZED. Meeting in Moscow on 6 December,
participants in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium signed an agreement
finalizing their respective stakes in the project, AFP reported. Fifty
per cent of the project will be divided between the governments of
Russia (24%), Kazakstan (19%), and Oman (7%); the remaining 50% will be
divided between Lukoil (12.5%), Rosneft (7.5%), Chevron (15%), Mobil
(7.5%), Italy's Agip (2%) British Gas (2%), Kazakstan's Munaigas (1.75%)
and the U.S. firm Oryx (1.75%). Construction of the pipeline, which will
initially transport 28 million tons of oil annually from Kazakstan's
Tengiz field to the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, will begin in 1997
and take an estimated two years at a cost of $1,500 million, according
to Russia's deputy minister for oil and energy, Anatolii Shatalov. The
pipeline will be operated by Russia's Transneft. -- Liz Fuller

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle

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