|Comedy is an escape, not from truth but from despair; a narrow escape into faith. - Christopher Fry|
No. 19, Part I, 28 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 MASKHADOV LEADING IN CHECHEN POLLS. Preliminary reports give former Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov a commanding lead in the 27 January Chechen presidential election, Russian and Western agencies reported. His staff claimed victory on 28 January, saying he received 58% of the vote. Chechen election officials told AFP that Maskhadov garnered over 55% in the 35 of 63 districts where results had been tabulated. Shamil Basaev was in second place, with about 30%. Officials estimated a very high turnout, reaching 80%, with heavy participation by refugees in Ingushetiya and Dagestan. Polling hours were extended until 10:00 p.m. local time in order to accommodate all those wishing to vote. Tim Guldimann, the head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, said he had not seen any significant irregularities, but the 72 OSCE election observers will meet on 28 January before releasing an official appraisal of the polls. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIAN LEADERS INSIST CHECHNYA REMAINS PART OF RUSSIA. While Chechen voters chose between presidential candidates who all support independence for the republic, Russian leaders on 27 January continued to dismiss talk of Chechnya becoming independent, Russian media reported. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that "one should not take seriously" campaign rhetoric about independence. "Let the elections happen and when everything has calmed down we can sit down at the table and begin working together," he added. Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev also argued that, despite campaign rhetoric, "relations can be built with Chechnya as a constituent part of Russia." These statements reflect the prevailing view in Moscow that economic necessity will force Chechen leaders to pull back from their goal of full independence. The Consultative Council, consisting of Chernomyrdin, Seleznev, Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, and Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin, will meet on 28 January to discuss Chechnya. -- Scott Parrish YELTSIN POSTPONES VISIT TO NETHERLANDS. Aggravating concern about his health, President Boris Yeltsin on 27 January postponed his scheduled 4 February visit to The Hague, Russian and Western media reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said that the meeting was postponed because Yeltsin has not fully recovered from his recent pneumonia, and that doctors had advised the president to "avoid flying for the time being." The Hague meeting with top European Union officials will be rescheduled and moved to Moscow, Yastrzhembskii added, saying that Yeltsin still plans to meet with French President Jacques Chirac outside Moscow on 2 February. The announcement prompted Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov to renew calls for Yeltsin to step down because of his health. All three major Russian television networks gave the announcement only cursory coverage, and did not speculate on the president's condition. -- Scott Parrish RUMORS OF IMPENDING CHUBAIS DISMISSAL. Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais paid 515 million rubles ($92,000) in taxes owed on his 1996 income, but Yeltsin may be looking to replace him in any case, according to the 25 January Komsomolskaya pravda. The paper said Yeltsin was furious upon learning Chubais had earned $278,000 for "lectures and consultations" while working on the president's re-election campaign. It said Yeltsin may replace Chubais with Yurii Petrov, who headed the presidential staff from August 1991 to January 1992, First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin, whom he has known since his days in Sverdlovsk, or perhaps Deputy Chief of Staff Yurii Yarov. On 17 January, Moskovskii komsomolets speculated that Yeltsin may soon replace Chubais with Reforms--New Course leader Vladimir Shumeiko, who served as Federation Council speaker from 1994-1995. -- Laura Belin BATURIN ON MILITARY REFORM. On a tour of military installations in the Far East, Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin admitted that he has differences of opinion with Defense Minister Igor Rodionov about the direction of military reform, but emphasized that "we can sit down and find a common solution," NTV reported on 27 January. He added, however, that Russia cannot afford to maintain the military at its current size, and said it was "erroneous" to postpone reform until additional funds have been budgeted for the military, an implicit criticism of Rodionov's views. He concluded that military reform should not only downsize the army and eliminate wasteful duplication, but also focus on research and development of the next generation of high-technology weaponry. -- Scott Parrish SHARANSKII RETURNS TO MOSCOW. Ten years after being freed from a Soviet prison and sent to the West in a cold war prisoner swap, former dissident Natan Sharanskii returned to Moscow on 27 January, Russian and Western media reported. Sharasnkii, now Israeli minister of trade and industry, is accompanied by a large delegation of Israeli businessmen, and his four-day official visit primarily aims to boost Russian-Israeli trade. However, he also plans to visit Lefortovo prison and the grave of fellow dissident Andrei Sakharov. -- Scott Parrish MOST GROUP CREATES MEDIA HOLDING COMPANY. Vladimir Gusinskii is resigning as Most Bank president and Most group general director in order to become general director of a new holding company, Media-Most, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on 27 January. Media-Most will acquire all the shares Most group holds in various media outlets, including NTV and the satellite network NTV-Plus, the radio station Ekho Moskvy, the publishing house Sem Dnei, the newspaper Segodnya, and the weekly magazine Itogi. Gusinskii said he hoped the move would improve the media's financial performance and avoid "a possible conflict of interest" between the media and companies in the Most group. Gusinskii has been close to the presidential administration since last spring. NTV President Igor Malashenko worked openly for Yeltsin's re-election campaign, and in recent months the network's coverage has continued to favor the president over his political opponents. -- Laura Belin COUNCIL FOR FOREIGN INVESTMENT MEETS. Speaking at the seventh meeting of the consultative council for foreign investment (which includes governmental officials and representatives of Russian and foreign business circles), Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that foreign investments in Russia topped $6 billion in 1996, while the cumulative volume of foreign investment reached $12 billion by the end of the year, Izvestiya and ITAR-TASS reported on 27-28 January. Chernomyrdin argued that Russia's political and economic development has become more predictable and the political risk of foreign investment has declined. Tax reform, the impending adoption of international accounting practices by Russian companies, and other changes in economic legislation could increase the volume of foreign investment in Russia to $20 billion by 2000, he said. -- Natalia Gurushina HAZARDS OF TAX COLLECTION. The Russian Tax Service said on 27 January that 26 of its inspectors were killed, 74 injured, six kidnapped, and 164 threatened with physical violence in 1996, ITAR-TASS reported. Eighteen taxation offices experienced bomb blasts and shooting incidents. The service, which has been under heavy government pressure to improve tax collection, has also suffered financial difficulties. Tax offices in Yaroslavl Oblast are on strike to protest delayed wages, and inspectors in Tver are threatening to take industrial action, Radio Mayak reported on 26 January. The IMF suspended payment of the November and December tranches ($680 million) of a $10.1 billion extended facility fund to Russia because of inadequate tax collection. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said on 27 January, however, that the funds should be released in the next few days. -- Natalia Gurushina and Penny Morvant HIV CASES UP, OTHER INFECTIOUS DISEASES DOWN. First Deputy Health Minister Gennadii Onishchenko said on 27 January that 1,397 new cases of HIV infection were registered in Russia in the second half of 1996, ITAR-TASS reported. There was a particularly sharp increase in the number of intravenous drug users infected with the virus. The total number of HIV cases recorded in Russia to date is 2,439 but the true number of carriers is thought to be several times higher. Onishchenko also said that the overall incidence of infectious diseases declined by 5.3% in 1996, noting in particular that vaccination programs had led to a reduction in diphtheria and measles. Vaccine producers are currently owed about 100 billion rubles ($17.8 million) for state orders dating back to 1995, according to the Health Ministry. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has promised that this debt will soon be paid. -- Penny Morvant RUSSIAN SHIPS UNDER SCRUTINY. A state commission investigating the 2 January sinking of the Russian oil tanker Nakhodka in the Sea of Japan concluded that it collided with a floating object, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. Investigators said the tanker, which released about 4,000 metric tons of oil into the sea, may have collided with a wrecked fishing boat or a floating target used for military exercises. Meanwhile, the British marine safety agency has placed the Russian merchant fleet in its "risk" category. The agency says Russian ships are poorly maintained, prone to accidents, and present a danger to the environment. Of 185 Russian merchant ships examined by British inspectors in 1996, one in 10 had serious technical problems and 19 were detained. -- Natalia Gurushina and Penny Morvant RUSSIA BEHIND SCHEDULE IN SPACE STATION'S CONSTRUCTION. The U.S. space agency NASA has expressed concern over Russia's one-year delay in assembling the service module of the international orbital space station Alfa, AFP and Reuters reported on 27 January. The delay, which was caused by the lack of financing, may result in postponing the first manned mission to the station -- originally slated for May 1998 -- to early 1999. Russian officials say the 1997 budget, which has just been approved by the Duma, earmarks necessary funds for the project. A spokesman for the Moscow-based Khrunichev space center, which assembles the module, said the company had already secured a $35 million loan from Moskovskii mezhdunarodnyi bank. U.S. officials, however, are threatening to limit Russia's participation in the project if delays persist. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA TENSIONS MOUNT IN ABKHAZIA. Abkhaz police are conducting identity checks to detect "Georgian saboteur groups" in ethnic Georgian villages in the Gali district, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 January. The raids follow armed clashes in the district, which the Abkhaz blame on Georgian special services. Georgian officials described the clashes as "power struggles between Abkhaz clans and criminal groups." Earlier, Abkhaz officials claimed that they captured four Georgian gunmen, one of whom "confessed" to involvement in the attacks. Meanwhile, ITAR-TASS quoted Georgian TV as reporting that some 2,000 mainly ethnic Georgian residents of the Gali district, fearing "looting and violence by the Abkhaz forces," fled to the neighboring Zugdidi district. Meanwhile, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba called on the leaders of the CIS-member countries to prolong the mandate of the Russian-led CIS peacekeeping forces in Abkhazia. -- Emil Danielyan PARTIAL RESULTS OF KAZAKSTANI FREQUENCY TENDER. Kazakstani authorities on 24 January announced the results of the first round of a tender for broadcasting rights, Internews and Kazak Television reported, as monitored by the BBC. According to the television, channels were given to Kazak Commercial Television (KTK) and the Independent Television Channel (NTK), which were described as "independent companies." KTK is owned by Karavan, which publishes an independent newspaper, but Internews linked NTK with the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbayev. Radio frequencies were given to "Europa," "Siti," and "Rika." A second tender will be held later. Meanwhile, Russian Television reported on 27 January that its broadcasts have been pulled off the air in Kazakstan and replaced with programming from Kazakstan's state television agency "Habar." Russian-speaking citizens of Kazakstan, particularly in the north, have protested the change to Russian Minister of CIS Affairs Aman Tuleyev. -- Bruce Pannier UYGHUR CONGRESS HELD IN KYRGYZSTAN. A congress of the Uyghur Association of Kyrgyzstan was held in Bishkek on 26 January, RFE/RL reported. The session replaced the association's president, Nurmuhamed Kenjiev, with Nigmat-Agi Baizakov. It also elected a 47-member council and five-member inspection committee. The congress approved plans for creating a special fund which would provide Uyghur students studying in Kyrgyzstan with a 3,000 som ($180) monthly stipend. Also, the association plans to open book stores in Bishkek, which will specialize in Uyghur literature. There are now about 50,000 Uyghurs living in Kyrgyzstan. The Uyghur Association was founded in 1990, the first ethnic minority organization registered in the country. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov TURKMENISTAN AND AZERBAIJAN TANGLE OVER OIL FIELD. Ashgabat and Baku appear to be on the verge of an open dispute over ownership of the Chirag offshore Caspian oil field, Russian and Azerbaijani sources reported on 26 January. While the two have been at odds over the Caspian's status, with Ashgabat's position mirroring that of Russia and Iran in opposition to that of Azerbaijan, no dispute over particular fields has yet gone public. The present friction stems from a 23 January article in theFinancial Times in which Ashgabat claimed that the Chirag field, part of the so-called "deal of the century," is located in Turkmenistan's territorial waters. Baku has both demanded clarification of Ashgabat's position and rejected any such claims. -- Lowell Bezanis [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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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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