If there is anyone listening to whom I owe money, I'm prepared to forget it if you are. - Errol Flynn
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 10, Part I, 15 January 1997


OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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 RESOLUTION TO REMOVE YELTSIN DRAFTED. A draft resolution calling
for the removal of President Boris Yeltsin due to his poor health was
drawn up by the State Duma Security Committee and submitted to the
Duma's legal department for study, Russian and Western media reported on
14 January. Article 92 of the constitution stipulates that three
circumstances may cause the president to leave office before his term
expires: his resignation; his "persistent inability to fulfill his
duties due to his state of health"; or his impeachment. However, the
constitution specifies no process for determining the president's
fitness or removing him on health grounds. Yeltsin's representative in
parliament, Aleksandr Kotenkov, denounced the proposed Duma resolution.
He claimed that Article 92 implies that the president himself would have
to decide that he was unable to serve for health reasons. -- Laura Belin

YELTSIN HEALTH UPDATE. The presidential press service said Yeltsin's
condition improved significantly on 14 January, allowing him to do two
hours of paperwork and meet with his chief of staff, Anatolii Chubais,
for about half an hour, Russian and Western media reported. Spokesmen
said Yeltsin's temperature remains normal and he has only "sporadic
wheeziness" in his lungs, but there was still no word on when the
president might leave the Central Clinical Hospital. -- Laura Belin

CHECHEN DEVELOPMENTS. Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin
announced on 14 January that preliminary agreement had been reached to
allow refugees from Chechnya to vote in the presidential elections in
Moscow, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, and Stavropol, ORT reported. Council
spokesman Igor Ignatiev told AFP on 15 January that Chechen leaders have
agreed to make arrangements to allow some refugees living in neighboring
Dagestan and Ingushetiya to vote near their place of residence. Earlier,
Chechen election officials had said that refugees, variously estimated
at 230-350,000, would have to cross back into Chechnya to vote (see OMRI
Daily Digest , 9 January 1997). There was no confirmation of the new
policy from the Chechen side. The refugees are thought likely to vote
for Aslan Maskhadov, who negotiated the end of the war. -- Peter Rutland

LEBED IN GERMANY. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed
began a five-day private visit to Germany on 14 January at the
invitation of the German-Russian Forum and the German Society for
Foreign Policy, Russian and Western media reported. Commenting on NATO
enlargement, Lebed said he expects the alliance to admit four new
members: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovenia, despite
Moscow's objections. He argued that this "first wave" of expansion would
be the last, as afterwards "internal tensions" would wrack the alliance.
Lebed emphasized that he still opposed NATO enlargement, but said Russia
needed to intensify contacts with the alliance to "build mutual trust,"
and hammer out arrangements for a new European security system. NTV
reported that Lebed plans to travel to Washington to attend U.S.
President Bill Clinton's 20 January inauguration. -- Scott Parrish

ZYUGANOV PANS TIMING OF YELTSIN'S BELARUS INITIATIVE. Communist leader
Gennadii Zyuganov on 14 January attacked Yeltsin's latest proposal to
accelerate integration with Belarus as "political intrigue," the BBC
reported. Zyuganov said he did not oppose union with Belarus in
principle, but argued "destroyers cannot unite," referring to the
communist view that holds Yeltsin responsible for the collapse of the
USSR. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed termed Yeltsin's
initiative a "political trick," designed to "divert Russian society's
attention away from vital internal state problems." Meanwhile,
presidential foreign policy aide Dmitrii Ryurikov denied media reports
that Yeltsin's move was designed to counter NATO enlargement. He told
ITAR-TASS that Russo-Belarusian unification would not threaten NATO, and
pointedly noted that Moscow would respond to Western questions on the
issue "just as NATO answers our claims: this is not directed against
you." -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA DENOUNCES ALLEGED LETTER ON UKRAINIAN POLICY. Russian officials
on 14 January angrily denounced as a "forgery" a document which the Kyiv
paper Vseukrainskie vedomosti published the previous day, Russian and
Western media reported (see related story in Ukrainian section). The
paper claimed the document is an October 1996 letter from Russian Deputy
Foreign Minister Sergei Krylov to presidential foreign policy aide
Dmitrii Ryurikov, in which Kylov allegedly termed Ukrainian President
Leonid Kuchma's foreign policy "anti-Russian and destructive," and
called for steps to engineer his ouster. Krylov said such a letter "did
not and could not exist," adding that "Ukraine is a state friendly to
Russia." The Russian Foreign Ministry termed the publication "a
provocative falsification," blasted it as "Goebbels-like propaganda,"
and requested that Ukrainian authorities investigate the incident. (See
related item in Central and Eastern Europe section) -- Scott Parrish

1996 LIVING STANDARDS REVIEWED. The real income of Russian citizens
remained stable in 1996 in contrast to the downturn in 1995, Vyacheslav
Bobkov, the director of the All-Russian Center for Living Standards,
told ITAR-TASS on 14 January. The share of total income accounted for by
wages grew slightly, reversing the trend in evidence in previous years.
Bobkov also noted a 15% decline in the share of the population living
below the poverty line but added that the income of 11% of the
population was too low even to purchase the food component of the
subsistence minimum. Income differentials stabilized: the income of the
richest 10% of the population is now 13 times higher than that of the
poorest 10%, down from a ratio of 13.5 in 1995. All income data must be
treated with caution because of underreporting to avoid taxes and delays
in the payment of wages and benefits. -- Penny Morvant

FNPR PLANS NEW PROTEST. Mikhail Shmakov, head of the Federation of
Independent Trade Unions (FNPR), has instructed the organization's
regional branches to begin preparations for a possible one-day strike on
27 March to protest wage arrears, Russian Television (RTR) reported on
14 January. The FNPR, an umbrella body including 46 sectoral unions and
79 regional associations, regularly organizes national protests--the
most recent on 5 November. Participation varies greatly from region to
region, with many work collectives declaring solidarity with union
demands but failing to take part in strikes and pickets. According to
ITAR-TASS, the FNPR's new statutes, adopted at its third congress on 6
December, require member organizations to take part in collective
actions. It remains to be seen whether this change will succeed in
making the FNPR more cohesive and its protests more effective. -- Penny
Morvant

NO MONEY TO PAY TAX COLLECTORS. The State Tax Service (GNS) is still
owed 1.9 trillion rubles ($340 million) from the 1996 federal budget,
Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 January, citing GNS Deputy Chairman
Vladimir Yevstigneev. Yevstigneev added that a decree issued by
President Yeltsin last May raising wages for GNS employees by 30% has
not been implemented. Many other such promises made by Yeltsin in the
run-up to the presidential elections have also been ignored. The
mounting debt to tax officials--upon whose efforts the current drive to
improve tax collection relies--is provoking labor disputes. One tax
department in Yaroslavl Oblast, for example, has resolved to go on
strike until its demands are met. -- Penny Morvant

VOLSKII LOBBIES FOR SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH. Arkadii Volskii, chairman of
the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, called on the
government to allot 4% of the federal budget to scientific research - as
they are obliged to under a July 1996 law. Writing in Rossiiskaya gazeta
on 15 January, Volskii noted that the 1997 budget allots just 2.67% to
research. He argued that since 1991 research institutes have lost 40-70%
of their personnel, and have seen their funding fall 15-fold. He noted
that Russia is still living off the heritage of Soviet science: current
fighter export orders, for example, are for a model which was designed
in 1987. Volskii also called for tax breaks for institutes and
universities, and for them to be granted a share of export earnings from
high-tech exports. -- Peter Rutland

RUSSIA'S FOREIGN TRADE IN 1996. According to preliminary estimates,
Russia's foreign trade in 1996 reached $133.1 billion, 5% up on 1995,
Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 January, citing Foreign Economics
Relations Minister Oleg Davydov. Exports (45% of which were energy
resources) went up by 8% to $86.5 billion. Machinery exports increased
by 10%. Imports declined by 0.1% to $46.6 billion. Trade with CIS
countries increased by 10%, and with the rest of the world by 4%. CIS
countries accounted for 18% of Russia's exports and 32% of imports.
Davydov said that the average import tariff in Russia was 14-15%. It
will be cut by one-fifth by the year 2000 and by another one-third by
2005. -- Natalia Gurushina in Moscow

TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

ARMENIAN, GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN YEREVAN. Georgian Foreign
Minister Irakli Menagarashvili on 14 January met with his Armenian
counterpart Aleksandr Arzumanyan, ITAR-TASS and Noyan Tapan reported.
The two agreed that prospective gas pipelines from Russia to Turkey
running via Georgia and Armenia and from Iran to Armenia and Georgia are
in their countries' interests. "We are ready to do everything for the
realization of these two projects," Menagarashvili said. The ministers
said they reached "complete mutual understanding" on all the issues
discussed during the talks. Menagarashvili praised Armenia for its
"absolute support" for Georgia's efforts to settle the Abkhaz conflict,
and added that the dispute concerns all three Transcaucasian states as
it hampers their communication with the outside world. Menagarashvili
was also received by Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. -- Emil
Danielyan

ARMENIAN PRIME MINISTER IN U.S. During his two-week visit to the U.S.,
Armen Sarkisyan met with U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Deputy
Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, RFE/RL reported on 13 January.
According to State Department spokeswoman Ann Johnson, Talbott urged
Armenian authorities to hold early parliamentary elections and discussed
with Sarkisyan the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Sarkisyan assured U.S.
officials and the Armenian-American community that he and President
Levon Ter-Petrossyan are committed to "strengthening democracy" and
economic reforms. Sarkisyan also met with World Bank President James
Wolfensohn. -- Emil Danielyan

ALIEV ON "OIL WEAPON." Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev, speaking
about resolving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said "the great powers
which make use of our oil...can use their influence to persuade Armenia
to negotiate," AFP reported on 15 January. Aliev was speaking at the
conclusion of his state visit to France. The day before, Russian media
reported that French President Jacques Chirac, following talks with
Aliev, emphasized the need to respect Azerbaijan's territorial
integrity. This statement was interpreted to mean Aliev had made
progress in securing traditionally pro-Armenian France's support in the
dispute over the break-away ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
-- Lowell Bezanis

BOYCOTT OF KAZAKSTANI MEDIA TENDER FAILS. Though some of Kazakstan's
independent stations tried to organize a boycott of the tender of
broadcast frequencies, 20 of 27 private and commercial radio and
television stations plan to take part, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 January.
Independent stations had hoped to delay the tender but when it became
clear the Transport and Communications Ministry intended to hold to the
13 January deadline for proposals many independent stations chose to
take part. Licenses are due to be issued on 24 January. -- Bruce Pannier

KILLERS OF AMERICAN JOURNALIST IN KAZAKSTAN CAUGHT? Law enforcement
officials in Kazakstan say they have apprehended three suspects in the
murder of American journalist Chris Gehring, RFE/RL reported on 15
January. Authorities say one of the suspects, a known drug addict,
admits to stealing the keys to Gehring's apartment and giving them to
the other suspects. A computer, believed to be Gehring's, was found in
the basement of a building where one of the suspects lives. Kazakstani
authorities still maintain that Gehring surprised the thieves as they
were robbing his flat and then the robbers tied his hands and feet,
tortured him, and cut his throat. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan

EXCHANGE OF TAJIK POWs BEGINS. In another hopeful sign that the latest
ceasefire agreement will work, the Tajik opposition on 14 January
released 35 government soldiers captured in fighting in central
Tajikistan in late November and early December, according to RTR and
Reuters. The government had freed six opposition prisoners on 11
January. Another 20 government soldiers held in Garm will be released
soon, the opposition says. The Tajik government noted that, while this
step is encouraging, there are possibly hundreds of government POWs
being held and not all the groups holding them are allied to the United
Tajik Opposition. Some may have been captive for more than one year. --
Bruce Pannier

PROSTITUTION, CORRUPTION AND CRIME IN TURKMENISTAN. A glimpse of
Turkmenistan's social problems was provided by a crackdown on
prostitution in Ashgabat, RFE/RL reported on 14 January. President
Saparmurat Niyazov said prostitution has become a widespread problem and
noted that girls as young as 12 or 13 were engaged in the vice trade. He
also charged law enforcement officials with deep involvement in the
business, citing a report of the Presidential Security Council, as well
as involvement in the drug trade. Niyazov noted there was a 16% rise in
major crimes nationwide, 19% in Ashgabat itself and 22% in Tashavus. --
Lowell Bezanis

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle

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