A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner. - Samuel Johnson
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

No. 11, Part I, 15 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 TO SPEND SEVERAL MORE DAYS IN HOSPITAL. President Boris
Yeltsin's head doctor, Sergei Mironov, announced on 15 January that the
president would remain in the Central Clinical Hospital at least until
the end of the week, Russian and Western media reported. He said
Yeltsin's condition was stable, and his temperature had remained normal
for six days, but he noted that pneumonia is a "rather serious disease"
that could still lead to complications. However, Mironov predicted that
Yeltsin would be well enough by the end of the month to attend a summit
of CIS leaders, NTV reported. Commenting on charges that the president
is "persistently unable" to fulfill his duties, Mironov said such
accusations are "simply not serious," because Yeltsin has been absent
from the Kremlin only since 8 January for treatment of pneumonia. Heart
disease kept Yeltsin away from the Kremlin for about four months in 1995
and six months in 1996. -- Laura Belin

DUMA EXPERTS NIX RESOLUTION TO REMOVE YELTSIN . . . Legal experts
working for the State Duma announced that the lower house of parliament
does not have the constitutional authority to pass a resolution to
remove the president on health grounds, Russian media reported on 15
January. They noted that there is no law outlining the process by which
a president could be removed because of poor health. Following the
announcement, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev suggested removing the
resolution from the Duma's agenda, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential
Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais characterized the attempts to remove
Yeltsin as a "political farce." -- Laura Belin

. . . BUT OPPONENTS KEEP UP THE PRESSURE. Even though the resolution on
removing Yeltsin would apparently carry no legal weight, Duma Security
Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin continued to press for a
parliamentary vote on the measure, which was drafted by his committee,
Russian media reported on 15 January. Communist Party leader Gennadii
Zyuganov said his faction, which includes Ilyukhin, would meet on 16
January to decide whether to force the Duma to vote on the resolution.
Zyuganov added that he was surprised that Yeltsin's advisers, friends
and family "decided to finish him off by forcing him to work after such
a serious operation." -- Laura Belin

CHUBAIS BEHIND ON HIS TAXES. Investigative journalist Aleksandr Minkin
has discovered that Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais did not
pay income tax on the $278,000 he earned between 15 April and 15 July
1996 when he was working for the presidential election campaign. Minkin
reported this in Novaya gazeta 's 13-19 January issue, noting that
Chubais' monthly salary was 10 times that of the U.S. president. Chubais
was appointed chief of staff on 15 July, and in August Yeltsin placed
him in charge of a special emergency commission to improve tax
collection. Minkin relates that he contacted Chubais' office on 9
January and asked whether he had paid taxes. Minkin was told that
Chubais had not, but that he would soon, "at the latest by Tuesday."
Minkin notes that under the law on state service a tax declaration must
be filed when a person takes up a state job, and asks whether Chubais
submitted such a declaration, and if so whether the $278,000 was
reported. -- Peter Rutland

LEBED WARNS OF APPROACHING CRISIS. Appearing on German ZDF television,
former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said he had spoken
directly with Yeltsin on 14 January and advised him to resign if he
could not carry out his duties because of poor health, Russian and
Western media reported on 15 January. Lebed again warned that Russia
could face a "social explosion" by March if urgent steps are not taken
soon. In an interview published in the 15 January edition of Moskovskaya
pravda, Lebed predicted that as the political and social situation
deteriorates, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will be fired. He
further speculated that Chubais will be appointed acting prime minister,
and "with the help of his friends abroad" will mobilize enormous
financial resources to pay overdue wages and pensions. -- Laura Belin

STROEV REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT. Federation Council Chairman
Yegor Stroev reemphasized his support for President Boris Yeltsin on 15
January, commenting that he was outraged by speculation about his
political sympathies, ITAR-TASS reported. On 10 January, Stroev had
called for amending the constitution, provoking criticism from the
president's team that no changes were necessary in the three-year old
document. The Federation Council speaker, however, noted that the
constitution itself foresees amendments and that there are many
loopholes which need to be filled. Stroev also stressed that, in
contrast to the Duma, no one in the Federation Council had raised the
question of removing Yeltsin on the grounds of his poor health. --
Robert Orttung

DUMA EXAMINES BILL ON SECURING RUSSIA'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY. The Duma
approved in first reading on 15 January a bill on preserving the
country's territorial integrity. In the speeches before the vote, the
deputies referred to pressure from Estonia, Japan, and China for Russian
territory and the lack of a legal basis for countering Chechen
secessionists, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill backs the use of military
force when other means do not work. The current text also allows one of
Russia's 89 republics and regions to give land to another, provided a
referendum is held on that territory and two-thirds of the population
approve the transfer, AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung

SELEZNEV SEES IMPROVING EXECUTIVE-LEGISLATIVE RELATIONS. On the day the
Duma opened its 1997 spring session, Speaker Gennadii Seleznev noted
that 1996 was the first year in Russia's post-Soviet history that there
were "more or less harmonious" relations between the two branches of
power, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. Although the legislature made
little progress on such important issues as the land code, Seleznev
pointed to the progress on the 1997 budget as the Duma's main
accomplishment for the past year. In the coming year, Seleznev stressed
the need to adopt a law defining procedures for amending the
constitution. The communists are seeking to transfer some of the
president's enormous constitutional power to the legislature, stressing
that Yeltsin's inability to perform his duties were creating a "crisis
of power." -- Robert Orttung

CHECHEN ELECTION UPDATE. Controversy continued on 15 January over
whether and how Chechen refugees would be able to participate in the
upcoming 27 January presidential elections in the republic, Russian
media reported. NTV cited acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev
as refuting reports that an agreement had been reached with federal
authorities to open polling stations in Moscow, Stavropol, and several
other Russian cities (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 January 1997).
Yandarbiev denied even holding talks on the issue. The head of the
Chechen electoral commission, Momadi Saidaev, told AFP that polling
stations could be opened in Russia if Moscow immediately recognizes
Chechen independence, but otherwise "voting will only take place on our
territory." In Moscow on 16 January, the presidential human rights
commission accused the Chechen authorities of organizing an
"intentionally undemocratic" election by excluding refugees living
outside the republic. -- Scott Parrish

BEREZOVSKII MEETS COSSACK LEADERS. Addressing a meeting of southern
Russian Cossack leaders in Stavropol Krai, Deputy Security Council
Secretary Boris Berezovskii said that "crude military means" could not
be used to resolve the Chechen crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. He also
rejected demands by some Cossack leaders that federal troops occupy
three northern districts of Chechnya which were transferred to the
republic in 1957, and had large ethnic Russian populations before
fighting began in 1994. He described the Khasavyurt agreement which
negotiated an end to the conflict as "humiliating," but said that the
federal government had to be "consistent" and implement it. He said
there was no question ofBerezovskii also supported he idea of creating
armed Cossack units to guard the Chechen-Russian frontier. Chechen
officials have expressed worry about possible "provocations" by armed
Cossacks hoping to undermine the 27 January Chechen presidential polls.
-- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN APPROVES MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE. President Yeltsin has signed a
law raising the minimum wage by 10% from 75,900 rubles to 83,490 rubles
($15) a month retroactive to 1 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 15
January. The bill was passed by the Federation Council on 25 December
(see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 December 1996). The minimum wage, multiples
of which are used to calculate a wide range of benefits and legal
penalties, was last raised in April 1996. -- Penny Morvant

SABOTAGE SUSPECTED IN VLADIVOSTOK HEATING PLANT FAILURE. Pipes carrying
hot water burst in dozens of apartment buildings in Vladivostok on 15
January after a closed valve at a central heating plant caused pressure
in the pipes to rise, ITAR-TASS reported. Three schools, a kindergarten,
a hospital and apartments in more than 50 buildings were flooded, and
then left without heat. Damage is preliminarily estimated at 20 billion
rubles ($3.5 million). A spokesman for the mayor's office on 16 January
blamed the incident on sabotage, saying the administration had earlier
received an anonymous call warning that such an accident might take
place. Maintaining hot water and electricity supplies is one of the main
challenges facing Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov in his first winter
since being reinstated in office. -- Penny Morvant

TAX COLLECTION IN 1996 STILL BELOW TARGET. Tax receipts in 1996 reached
202 trillion rubles, Izvestiya reported on 14 January. This was 40% up
on the 1995 collection level in nominal terms, and 17% up in real terms.
Still, the 1996 figure was 16% below the target level. The shortfall is
due to tax arrears, lower than expected inflation, and the 6% fall in
GDP. The government's decision to continue the practice of reserving
part of companies' gross profits for paying salaries was responsible for
the non-payment of another 3 trillion rubles of taxes to the federal
budget. -- Natalia Gurushina in Moscow

TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER IN TBILISI. The speaker of the parliament of the
self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, Konstantin Dzugaev, has held
talks in Tbilisi with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and
Parliament Speaker Zurab Zhvania, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January.
Dzugaev is the first South Ossetian official to visit Tbilisi since the
region declared independence from Georgia in 1991. In a 13 January
interview with Georgian Radio monitored by the BBC, Shevardnadze said
"vigorous" Georgian-Ossetian negotiations will start soon. -- Emil
Danielyan

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ UPDATE. The parliament of Georgia's breakaway Republic
of Abkhazia adopted a statement urging the CIS heads of state to lift
economic sanctions imposed on the region in January 1996, ITAR-TASS
reported on 15 January, citing Abkhazpress. The statement says that the
sanctions may "undermine" settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. Earlier,
Abkhaz Foreign Minister Konstantin Ozgan warned that lifting sanctions
is a precondition for the return of some 200,000 ethnic Georgian
refugees to Abkhazia. In another statement, the Abkhaz parliament called
on the Russian Federal Assembly to postpone the ratification of the
Russo-Georgian agreement on friendship and cooperation, signed in
February 1994, until the Abkhaz dispute is settled. The statement also
says that the agreement's ratification would strengthen Georgia
economically and militarily and thus encourage the latter "to resort to
force in settling the conflict." -- Emil Danielyan

FRICTION OVER CO-CHAIR OF KARABAKH NEGOTIATIONS. Friction has arisen
within the OSCE over outgoing Chairman Flavio Cotti's decision to
nominate France as co-chair of the deadlocked negotiations over the
Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, RFE/RL reported on 15 January. The nomination
was welcomed by Armenia but reportedly disappointed Azerbaijan. Baku
preferred the United States to take up the post. An unnamed U.S.
official said Washington is "still interested" in playing a mediating
role along with permanent co-chair Russia, but would not reject France's
obtaining the post if a consensus favoring Paris developed.
Negotiations, which last took place in late November, are unlikely to
resume until the chairmanship problem is solved. -- Lowell Bezanis

PRIVATIZATION CONTINUES IN KAZAKSTAN. Kazakstan continues to offer major
industries for sale in a bid to overhaul its infrastructure. RFE/RL
reported on 15 January that there will be a tender for oil refineries at
Pavlodar and Aktyubinsk in January. Six companies have already
registered for the Pavlodar tender: Canada's Hurricane Hydrocarbons,
which bought Yuzhneftegaz last year; American companies Axis Industries
and Intermeditteranean; Britain's SS Oil; and Kazakstani companies
Amadeus and Radikal. Less interest has been expressed in the Aktyubinsk
refinery, which is smaller than the Pavlodar refinery and in worse
condition but is closer to the huge Tengiz oil field. So far only the
U.S. company Exxon has registered for that tender. Kazakstan's sale of
the Vasiilkovskoe gold mine to British Diamonds Resources Company is
expected to be finalized by the end of January. -- Bruce Pannier and
Merhat Sharipzhan

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle

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            Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc.
                      All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570
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