To live is so startling, it leaves little time for anything else. - Emily Dickinson
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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

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