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No. 18, Part I, 27 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 POLLS OPEN IN CHECHNYA. Chechen voters began casting ballots for a new president and parliament at 7:00 a.m. local time on 27 January, Russian and Western agencies reported. Amid tight security, 72 OSCE election monitors will observe voting at 435 precincts in the republic, where voters are choosing from 766 candidates vying for 63 parliamentary mandates and 13 candidates for the presidency. Three minor presidential candidates withdrew from the race on 26 January; two threw their support behind acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, while one backed former Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov. Chechen Electoral Commission officials said over 400,000 voters have been registered for the polls; 700,000 ballots have been printed, since registration will continue during the elections. Polling stations for Chechen refugees have been established in Ingushetiya, but refugees from other neighboring regions must return to Chechnya to vote. -- Scott Parrish MASKHADOV ON CHECHEN INDEPENDENCE, REPARATIONS. The former Chechen chief of staff said on 26 January that the presidential election would force Moscow to open talks with Chechnya on independence, declaring "we want to be recognized as a sovereign state," Reuters reported. Maskhadov added that he would seek "war reparations" from Russia if he became president. Maskhadov's statement provoked an angry reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk renewed warnings that Moscow would break diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Chechnya, although he admitted that no country had yet taken steps to do so. Some anticipate that Maskhadov will win the 27 January presidential election outright, getting over 50% of the vote. However, other leading candidates, including notorious former field commander Shamil Basaev, ex-press spokesman Movladi Udugov, or acting President Yandarbiev could garner enough votes to force a runoff election in two weeks. -- Scott Parrish EXPLOSION IN DAGESTAN. On the eve of the Chechen elections, five people were killed and two injured in an explosion in the Khasavyurt Raion of Dagestan near the Chechen border, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. The blast occurred during railway track repairs. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, but the local branch of the Federal Security Service has not ruled out the possibility that terrorists planted a mine under the tracks. Meanwhile, in Chechnya, the kidnapped head of the Orthodox church in Grozny and his assistant (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 January 1997), were released. Chechen officials insisted that "criminals" with no political motive were responsible for the priests' abduction. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski YELTSIN REMAINS OUT OF PUBLIC VIEW. Presidential aide Georgii Satarov said on 26 January that Boris Yeltsin, who was released from hospital on 20 January after 12 days treatment for pneumonia, is "intellectually extremely active" though physically weak, international agencies reported. Speaking on 24 January, Yeltsin's press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii also stressed that the president is keen to return to work though physically not ready to do so. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin did not intend to cancel his international engagements, but it was later announced that a CIS summit scheduled for 29 January had again been postponed. The Kremlin still insists that a 2 February meeting between Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac will go ahead. Many commentators are skeptical of official statements regarding Yeltsin's health, noting that no new photos of the president have been released since 6 January even though Yeltsin was reported to have visited the Kremlin on 22 January to meet with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. -- Penny Morvant DUMA APPROVES 1997 BUDGET. The State Duma on 24 January passed the 1997 budget on fourth reading by 245-90 with 17 abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. Budgetary spending is now set at 529.8 trillion rubles ($94.3 billion) and revenue at 434.4 trillion, leaving the budget deficit at 3.5% of GDP. Tax receipts are expected to reach 374.7 trillion rubles, 25% up from the 1996 level, an estimate considered unrealistic by many observers. Most Communists supported the budget, despite earlier threats to vote agains it or abstain, after securing more promises that the government would settle wage and pension arrears. On the same day, the Duma adopted on first reading an 18 trillion ruble development budget -- a controversial document supported by the Communists that calls for the creation of a special agency to manage part of the budgetary funds. -- Natalia Gurushina KULIKOV WINS SUIT AGAINST LEBED. A Moscow district court fined former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed a symbolic one ruble and the weekly Argumenty i fakty 100 million rubles ($18,000) for insulting the honor and dignity of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, Russian media reported on 24 January. In an interview published shortly after he was fired in October, Lebed accused Kulikov of collaborating with pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev to "write off funds from the Chechen budget." The paper pledged to appeal the decision, on the grounds that it had merely quoted Lebed. Last month, another Moscow court awarded Lebed one ruble after finding that Kulikov had falsely accused him of plotting a military coup in October (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 December 1996). -- Laura Belin BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS IN MOSCOW. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his recently appointed Belarusian counterpart Ivan Antanovich in Moscow on 24 January, Russian media reported. According to an Interfax report monitored by the BBC, Primakov said Moscow is "absolutely satisfied" with Belarusian foreign policy, which he described as "multi-faceted" but having "a special emphasis on Russia." While Primakov denied that Russian-Belarusian integration aims primarily to counter NATO enlargement, Antanovich confirmed that Minsk will continue to support Moscow's opposition to NATO's plans. The Belarusian diplomat also called for taking concrete steps to unify the Russian and Belarusian monetary and energy systems. The same day, the chairmen of both houses of the new Belarusian Federal Assembly, Anatolii Malofeev and Pavel Shepuk, discussed integration issues in Moscow with their Russian counterparts Gennadii Seleznev and Yegor Stroev. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA, NORTH KOREA SIGN TRAVEL AGREEMENT. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and North Korean officials on 24 January signed an agreement regulating travel between the two countries, ITAR- TASS reported. In what he described as a change from previous arrangements, Karasin said citizens of each country--except for diplomats and transport workers--would now need visas to visit the other. Earlier during his five-day official visit to Pyongyang, Karasin said the two sides had made significant progress on a new bilateral friendship treaty to replace the 1961 Soviet-North Korean Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which expired last September. But the Russian delegation departed from North Korea on 25 January without finishing the agreement, which ITAR-TASS said "working groups" would continue hammering out. Karasin also reiterated that Moscow would like to play a role in facilitating the "peaceful reunification" of the Korean peninsula. -- Scott Parrish CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES ON UDMURT CASE. The Russian Constitutional Court on 24 January ruled on a controversial law regulating institutions of state power in the Republic of Udmurtiya, Ekho Moskvy reported. The law, passed by the Udmurt State Council in April 1996, abolished all local government bodies at the town and district level, removed popularly elected mayors, and subordinated all local leaders directly to the republican legislature (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 October 1996). State Council head Aleksandr Volkov had long been at odds with Anatolii Saltykov, mayor of the Udmurt capital, Izhevsk. President Yeltsin, a group of Duma members, and residents of Izhevsk asked the Constitutional Court to examine the "contents and spirit of the law." According to ITAR-TASS, the court upheld the right of the Udmurt State Council to set up its own organs of power but ruled a number of the law's provisions unconstitutional. Thus the Udmurt authorities do not have the right to shut down local elected bodies before their term in office is complete without obtaining the consent of the population. -- Penny Morvant GAZPROM TO GET $2.5 BILLION LOAN. Russia's gas giant Gazprom is set to receive a $2.5 billion commercial credit from a consortium of major Western banks led by the German Dresdner Bank, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. The eight-year loan will not be guaranteed by the Russian government. The money will finance the construction of a 4,200-kilometer gas pipeline from the Yamal peninsula to Western Europe. The total cost of the project is estimated at $24 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA NEW ARRESTS IN GEORGIA. Georgian police have arrested 12 people who, according to Interior Minister Kakhi Targamadze, plotted to assassinate several high-ranking officials and were "partially funded from abroad," international agencies reported on 24 January. Targamadze alleged that some of those arrested are members of the banned Mkhedrioni paramilitary organization that helped to overthrow former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Procurator General Jamlet Babilashvili said the "terrorist group" had links with former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who, according to Georgian authorities, was implicated in the assassination attempt on President Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995. -- Emil Danielyan SHEVARDNADZE SETS CONDITIONS FOR REMAINING IN RUSSIAN "SPHERE OF INFLUENCE." Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said his country will not remain in Russia's "sphere of influence" unless Moscow helps Georgia restore its sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, international agencies reported on 26 January. According to AFP, Shevardnadze earlier cited Russian officials as complaining that the West wants to "lure Georgia away" from Russian influence. Georgia has repeatedly threatened to make the presence of Russian troops on its territory contingent on Moscow using its influence to resolve the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia has blamed "Georgian secret services" for attacks on Abkhaz military posts, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. The Georgian Security Ministry denied the allegations. -- Emil Danielyan ARMENIAN OFFICIAL ON FUTURE OF NAGORNO-KARABAKH NEGOTIATIONS. Zhirayr Libaridian, the chief aide to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, said Armenia will no longer hold direct negotiations with Azerbaijan without the participation of representatives of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 January. Libaridian said the decision was taken in the wake of the December 1996 OSCE summit in Lisbon. Libaridian, who previously had a number of meetings with his Azerbaijani counterpart Vafa Guluzade, argued that Azerbaijan wants to use its rich oil reserves as a bargaining chip in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In related news, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev met Russian presidential aide Emil Pain, in Baku. The two agreed that the any resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity while granting autonomy and security guarantees to Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian media reported. -- Emil Danielyan OFFICIALS SAY COUP ATTEMPT IN AZERBAIJAN THWARTED. Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security and the state prosecutor issued a joint statement on 24 January claiming that they thwarted a coup attempt planned for late last fall, Azerbaijani and Russian sources reported the same day. The statement says the coup was planned by former President Ayaz Mutalibov, former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, and former KGB chief Vagif Huseinov, and involved unnamed foreign intelligence officers. The plot allegedly unraveled when a key conspirator, former OPON Commander of Kazak District Elchin Amiraslanov, was arrested for murdering three law enforcement officials in October. Some 40 people have been arrested in connection with the alleged coup attempt. -- Lowell Bezanis DISARMAMENT BEGINS IN TURSUN ZADE. The commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, began on 25 January to enforce a presidential order to disarm all non-military formations in the city of of Tursun Zade, Russian sources reported. For four years various outlaw groups have struggled to gain control of the city, which is home to Central Asia's largest aluminum factory. According to the presidential order, disarmament should be completed by 28 January. Khudaberdiyev claims this will not be a problem and that the people of the city support his efforts, but he warned that any group which fails to comply will be eliminated. NTV reported on 25 January that Khudaberdiyev's unauthorized early January attack on Tursun Zade convinced President Imomali Rakhmonov to sign the disarmament order. -- Bruce Pannier LANGUAGE LAW REVIEWED IN KAZAKSTAN. The upper house of the Kazakstani parliament on 24 January discussed a draft of the country's language law, already passed by the lower house, which would increase the use of the Kazak language in the country, ITAR-TASS and Radio Mayak reported. Though Kazak is officially the state language, the lower house claimed it is not fully used and is still inferior to Russian. The bill gives ethnic Kazaks in the government until 2005 to master the language and ethnic Russians until 2010, but some parliamentarians now doubt that this deadline can be met without greater efforts to promote the state language's use. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. ISSN 1211-1570 ------------------------------------------------------------------------ SUBSCRIBING/UNSUBSCRIBING 1) Compose a message to email@example.com 2) To subscribe, write: SUBSCRIBE OMRI-L FirstName LastName (include your own name) To unsubscribe, write: UNSUBSCRIBE OMRI-L 3) Send the message BACK ISSUES Back issues of the OMRI Daily Digest are available through the World Wide Web, by FTP and by E-mail. 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