Words that open our eyes to the world are always the easiest to remember. - Ryszard Kapuscinski
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 4, Part I, 7 January 1997

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

YELTSIN CATCHES "COLD," CANCELS MEETINGS . . . Presidential spokesman
Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 6 January that, owing to a "serious
cold" and a slightly high temperature, President Boris Yeltsin had
postponed the scheduled 8 January session of the Defense Council and
several other meetings, including a scheduled visit by Bulgarian
President-elect Petar Stoyanov, Russian and Western agencies reported.
Yastrzhembskii denied that Yeltsin's illness was connected with his 5
November heart surgery, and said the president had probably caught the
influenza virus which is currently sweeping Moscow. Yastrzhembskii
refuted reports that a special "medical council" of top doctors had
convened to discuss the president's condition. Last July, before the
second round of the presidential election, administration officials
blamed a cold for Yeltsin's failure to appear in public, although later
it was revealed that the president had suffered a heart attack. -- Scott
Parrish

. . . ORDERS PREPARATION OF COUNTERMEASURES TO NATO ENLARGEMENT. Earlier
On 6 January, Yeltsin chaired a special meeting to discuss Russia-NATO
relations which was attended by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin,
presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, and other top officials,
Russian and international agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii said the
meeting had "unanimously confirmed" Moscow's "explicitly negative
position" on NATO enlargement. He added that Yeltsin had directed
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to devise a flexible "action plan" of
various measures which Russia might take if the alliance accepts new
Eastern European members. Meanwhile, Western diplomatic sources told
Reuters that in his 4 January meeting with German Chancellor Helmut
Kohl, Yeltsin took a hard line, insisting that before NATO invites new
members to join, it offer Russia a legally binding consultation
agreement granting Moscow a voice in alliance decisions like
enlargement. NATO officials have consistently rebuffed such suggestions
in the past. -- Scott Parrish

SPLIT IN MILITARY LEADERSHIP OVER REFORM PLANS? The Russian military
leadership is divided over how to approach the issue of military reform,
according to a 6 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The
agency said that the next session of the Defense Council had been
postponed largely because of disagreement among military leaders over
whether to move ahead with reform at current funding levels, or delay it
until additional funds are budgeted. Many military leaders, including
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, have insisted that additional funding
beyond the 104 trillion rubles ($18.9 billion) contained in the 1997
draft budget is needed to begin reform, while the agency said others
believe that waiting for additional funds is "unrealistic," and argue
that the collapse of the military will accelerate unless the limited
budget funds available are used to immediately begin downsizing the
military. -- Scott Parrish

JUSTICE MINISTRY CALLS FOR ACTION ON REPUBLICAN LAWS. The Justice
Ministry considers unconstitutional regional legislation a threat to
Russia's territorial integrity, and believes that "the time for
persuasion has gone. It is time to act," sources at the ministry told
ITAR-TASS on 5 January. In recent months, prominent figures including
presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, Communist Party leader
Gennadii Zyuganov, and Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev have complained
of so-called "legal separatism," noting that provisions in the
constitutions of 19 of Russia's 21 republics violate the federal
Constitution. Yeltsin has instructed Chubais, Kovalev, and Procurator-
General Yurii Skuratov to draft proposals on holding officials
responsible if they delay or hinder efforts to repeal unconstitutional
local laws. The Constitutional Court recently instructed the Republic of
Marii-El to rescind an article of the republic's constitution that
imposed language restrictions on candidates for public office. -- Laura
Belin

HEAD OF VCIOM DISCUSSES YEAR-END POLLS. For the first time in the nine
years that the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion
(VCIOM) has conducted year-end polls, respondents named a social problem
rather than a particular political event as the most important issue of
1996, VCIOM director Yurii Levada wrote in the 29 December-5 January
edition of Moskovskie novosti. In 1996, 42% of respondents named chronic
delays in paying salaries and pensions as the year's most important
event, followed by the peace agreement and withdrawal of troops from
Chechnya (39%), and the presidential election (26%). In 1995,
respondents cited the January assault on Grozny, the March assassination
of television journalist Vladislav Listev, and the December
parliamentary election. Levada noted that only about 20% of respondents
expect 1997 to be worse than 1996, while 75% believe it will be either
better or no worse. -- Laura Belin

RUSSIA REJECTS CRITICISM OF CYPRUS MISSILE DEAL. Foreign Ministry
spokesman Grigorii Tarasov rejected as "groundless" criticism by the
United States, Britain, and Turkey of the contract under which Moscow
will supply S-300 air defense missiles to Greek-controlled Cyprus (see
OMRI Daily Digest, 6 January 1997), Russian and Western agencies
reported on 6 January. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has filed a protest
note with Moscow, saying the missile deal "creates a threat to peace on
Cyprus," while the U.S. State Department termed the weapons sale "a step
in the wrong direction." Tarasov insisted that the purchase of the
"defensive armaments" by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot
government does not threaten anyone, adding that Russia "does not see
any reason to curtail its military-technical cooperation with Cyprus."
-- Scott Parrish

CHECHEN SECTION OF PIPELINE MAY NOT BE READY. The president of
Chechnya's Southern Oil Company, Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, complained to
ITAR-TASS on 7 January that the Russian Ministry of Fuel and Energy had
not signed an agreement on use of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline
crossing Chechnya by the 1 December deadline which had been agreed by
Chernomyrdin and Aslan Maskhadov when they met in Moscow on 23 November.
Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev recently ordered his own personal
battalion to take steps to shut down all the republic's illegal oil
producers, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 6 January. Apart from
operating their own wells, they also siphoned off oil from the pipeline,
when it was functioning. -- Peter Rutland

PATRIARCH SLAMS WAGE ARREARS. In his broadcast on the Orthodox Christmas
Eve, Patriarch Aleksii II said that "The Church states that the non-
payment of money for what has been earned by honest toil is a crime
against the individual and a sin against God," AFP reported on 6
January. He conducted a Christmas Eve mass attended by Moscow Mayor
Yurii Luzhkov and other officials, in which he called for a moral and
spiritual revival of the nation. Rossiiskie vesti of 6 January noted
that there are now some 300 churches and eight monasteries working in
Moscow. -- Peter Rutland

ACADEMIC ENDS HUNGER STRIKE. Vladimir Strakhov, the director of the
Institute of Earth Physics, ended a hunger strike which he began on 23
December to protest non-payment of the funds allocated to his institute.
He staged a similar protest in October. The 64-year old Strakhov was
reported to be suffering from heart problems. Strakhov complained that
in a meeting with Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits on 25 December,
the latter promised to pay off the government's 88 billion ruble ($16
million) debt to the Russian Academy of Sciences by 5 January, but this
was not done. Meanwhile, power workers in Chita, who have not been paid
since July 1996, began an open-ended strike on 5 January, ITAR-TASS
reported. -- Peter Rutland

INFLATION HITS NEW LOW. The annual inflation rate for 1996 was 21.8%,
down from 131% in 1995 and the lowest since 1990, ITAR-TASS reported on
6 January. In December, prices rose just 1.4%, and the 1997 budget sets
an inflation target of 11.8% for the year. Some analysts question the
relevance of the inflation figures, noting the growing use of barter and
money surrogates. However, another positive sign is that nominal annual
interest rates on new six-month government bonds have fallen to around
35%, down from a peak of 150% a year ago. (Foreign purchasers of the
bonds are limited to a dollar interest rate of 13%). ITAR-TASS reported
on 6 January that the federal budget deficit for the first 10 months of
1996 was 63.3 trillion rubles, which was 24% of total budget spending
and 3.5% of GDP. It was financed by the sale of government securities
(61%--38 trillion rubles) and external borrowing (39%). -- Peter Rutland

NTV ON TARPISHCHEV. NTV's "Itogi" showed the second installment of its
expose on the aluminum industry on 5 January. The first program argued
that Oleg Soskovets was the patron of a clique of aluminum
industrialists (see OMRI Daily Digest 2 January 1997). The second tried
to tie these individuals to Shamil Tarpishchev, former Sports Minister
and Yeltsin tennis trainer, and to other figures allegedly linked to
Moscow crime groups, such as Oleg "Taiwanchik" Takhtakhunov and Anton
Malevskii. The evidence cited was less than conclusive. It consisted of
photos of these men meeting at tennis tournaments in Sochi and the
Kremlin, and a photo from the magazine Tennis plyus of 2 December
showing them meeting the aluminum industrialist Mikhail Cherny in
Israel. The program also quoted the Kremlin visitor list for Tarpishev
from June 1995, which showed that he met with Oleg Kantor, the head of
Yugorskii bank, one month before the latter was assassinated. The
program is presumably part of an effort to discredit Tarpishev associate
Aleksandr Korzhakov. -- Peter Rutland

TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

U.S. TO SEEK PROSECUTION OF GEORGIAN DIPLOMAT . . . The United States
will ask the Georgian government to waive immunity for a diplomat to
allow his prosecution in the U.S. for a car accident in Washington that
caused the death of a 16-year-old American girl, Western agencies
reported on 6 January. Georgi Makharadze, 35, reportedly triggered a
five-car crash while drunk. The U.S. State Department said it is
awaiting police reports and a decision from the attorney general,
expected on 7 January, on whether to begin criminal proceedings against
Makharadze. An unidentified White House official told AFP that if the
Georgian government declines the request "we will ask the government to
remove the diplomat from the country." Georgian President Eduard
Shevardnadze has sent a letter of condolence to the family of the dead
girl and said Makharadze "should take responsibility." -- Emil Danielyan

. . . AMID CALLS TO SUSPEND U.S. AID TO GEORGIA. A Republican senator
urged President Bill Clinton to suspend aid to Georgia unless the latter
strips Makharadze of diplomatic immunity, Reuters reported on 6 January.
In a letter to Clinton, Senator Judd Gregg said that would be the only
"strong" and "appropriate" action for the U.S. government. A spokesman
for the Georgian embassy in Washington did not comment on Gregg's letter
but said any decision on a waiver of immunity will be a "decision
between the two governments." Georgia is slated to get $30 million in
financial aid from the United States for the 1997 fiscal year. State
Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States expressed
"very, very serious" concern to the Georgian ambassador, but defended
diplomatic immunity "as a concept." -- Emil Danielyan

RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN TALKS. A Russian delegation led by Deputy Prime
Minister Valerii Serov is in Baku for talks on a wide range of
bilateral, as well as CIS-related, issues, Russian media reported on 6
January. Talks are expected to focus on bilateral trade and economic
cooperation, the repayment of Azerbaijan's debts to Russia, and the
time-frame and volume for Azeri oil to be transited via Russian
territory. Both Azerbaijan and Russia have announced that their
respective segments of the 1411 km-long Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline are
ready to carry Azeri oil to international markets, Russian agencies
reported. Azerbaijan wants to start pumping some 30,000 metric tons of
oil in February. -- Lowell Bezanis

TAJIK TALKS OPEN IN IRAN. With a ceasefire agreed in Moscow in December
by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO)
leader Said Abdullo Nuri still holding, delegations from both sides met
in the Iranian capital Tehran on 6 January, international media
reported. The talks, delayed by one day, are to discuss the formation of
a National Reconciliation Commission which is to help pave the way for
new parliamentary elections within 12-18 months. Iranian Foreign
Minister Ali Akbar Velayati welcomed members of the delegations and
called on them to "be forgiving and show understanding." AFP reports
that the formation of the commission dominated the first day of the
talks, with the government delegation rejecting a proposal for 40% of
the commission to be made up of UTO representatives. Talks are scheduled
to continue all this week. -- Bruce Pannier

TRIAL OF TURGUNALIYEV CONTINUES IN KYRGYZSTAN. The case against
Topchubek Turgunaliyev, chairman of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party,
continued in Bishkek municipal court on 6 January, RFE/RL reported.
Turgunaliyev is facing embezzlement charges for the misappropriation of
$10,000 from the Bishkek Humanitarian University when he was its rector
in 1994. State prosecutor Marat Kenjakunov asked the court to seize all
Turgunaliyev's property and sentence him to a 12-year term in prison.
Timur Stamkulov, the former commercial director of the university, is a
codefendant and Kenjakunov asked for him to be sentenced to seven years
in jail. Turgunaliyev's lawyers argue that Turgunaliyev is a political
victim, noting that the trial is taking place in a criminal not a civil
court and pointing out that Turgunaliyev was taken into custody at a
December demonstration where a new movement "For Deliverance from
Poverty" was founded. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle

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            Copyright (c) 1996 Open Media Research Institute, Inc.
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