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No. 20, Part I, 29 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 APPARENT WINNER IN CHECHNYA. Although the Chechen Electoral Commission had not released official preliminary results early on 29 January, a spokesman for Aslan Maskhadov said that results from 53 of the republic's 63 electoral districts gave the former chief of staff almost 65% of the vote, while former field commander Shamil Basaev was second with 24%, followed by acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev with 10%, Russian and Western agencies reported. OSCE mission head Tim Guldimann confirmed on 28 January that international observers viewed the election as "legitimate and democratic." Maskhadov said at a press conference on 28 January that his top priorities as president will be securing recognition of Chechen independence from Moscow and cracking down on crime. He called for immediate talks with Moscow on independence, and insisted that "the same courage that won us the war" could secure international recognition of Chechen sovereignty. -- Scott Parrish CHECHEN REACTION TO MASKHADOV VICTORY. Former field commander Basaev told AFP on 29 January that he would neither oppose nor support Maskhadov. Basaev said he could not work with Maskhadov's aides, who he has previously described as "crooks." But he dismissed predictions that there would be a violent falling out between his supporters and those of Maskhadov, since "we have a common goal--Chechen independence." On 28 January, acting President Yandarbiev said the elections showed the "unity" of the Chechen people, adding that he would remain politically active despite his defeat. But he said his future support for Maskhadov would be contingent on the policies the new president adopts, adding independence should be the top priority. Amid rumors that he will be offered a senior post in the new government, another major candidate, Movladi Udugov, pledged his support for Maskhadov. -- Scott Parrish MOSCOW WELCOMES ELECTION RESULTS. Despite Maskhadov's repeated public insistence that he seeks full independence for Chechnya, Russian leaders reacted positively to his victory, which they argued would facilitate negotiations over Chechnya's future status, Russian and Western media reported on 28 January. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said President Boris Yeltsin was "satisfied" with the election. He added that Yeltsin believed Maskhadov's election "provides a serious chance" for successful talks resulting in "mutually acceptable decisions on Chechnya's status within the Russian Federation." Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov also described Maskhadov as a "moderate politician," saying "he understands that without Russia, Chechnya would not be viable." Ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, however, broke with the conventional wisdom that economic necessity will force Maskhadov to compromise his goal of independence, arguing that Moscow and Grozny "will not find a common language." Although opinion polls show that most Russians do not care if Chechnya becomes independent, Russian leaders adamantly reject this option. -- Scott Parrish LEBED WELCOMES MASKHADOV WIN, SEEKS RETURN OF JOURNALISTS. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 28 January welcomed the victory of Maskhadov, whom he called an honest and responsible man and "a model officer," ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported. Lebed and Maskhadov negotiated and signed the Khasavyurt accords last August, and Lebed expressed confidence that the new Chechen president would respect the terms of those agreements. On the same day, Lebed announced that his associates have been involved in negotiations to secure the release of two Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondents who have been missing in Chechnya since 19 January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 and 24 January 1997). Lebed said the two journalists were being held somewhere in the mountains and would be returned within two or three days, once weather conditions improve, ORT reported. -- Laura Belin YELTSIN RETURNS TO KREMLIN, BRIEF FOOTAGE RELEASED. The presidential press service said President Yeltsin visited the Kremlin for about three hours on 28 January, meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin for one hour, Russian and Western media reported. Yeltsin also met with CIS Executive Secretary Ivan Korotchenya. Very brief footage from both meetings, broadcast without sound on major Russian television networks, showed Yeltsin looking tired and thinner than he had on 6 January, when the last pictures of him were released. Presidential spokesman Yastrzhembskii insisted that Yeltsin will meet with French President Jacques Chirac in Moscow on 2 February, and pictures from that meeting will be televised. Korotchenya said the summit of CIS leaders, recently postponed due to Yeltsin's pneumonia, has been rescheduled for 15 March. -- Laura Belin CIS DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET. Despite the postponement of the CIS summit scheduled for later this month, the CIS Council of Defense Ministers met in closed session in Moscow on 28 January, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported the next day. Ministers from all CIS members except Moldova and Turkmenistan attended the meeting. They decided to recommend to the CIS heads of state that Russian Army General Viktor Samsonov be reinstated as head of the CIS Military Cooperation Staff. Russian President Yeltsin had removed Samsonov last October, when he was appointed chief of the Russian General Staff, but the other CIS members subsequently refused to accept Yeltsin's suggested replacement, Russian Army General Mikhail Kolesnikov. The council also recommended extending to the mandates of CIS peacekeepers in Tajikistan and Abkhazia to 30 June and 31 July, respectively. -- Scott Parrish SCANDAL IN RUSSIAN COUNCIL OF EUROPE DELEGATION. Public discord among the members of the Russian delegation to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly means that the post of assembly vice-chairman assigned to Russia will remain vacant until April, Izvestiya reported on 29 January. Russia is allotted one of 18 vice-chairmanships--a position held until now by Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko). At a recent meeting of the Russian delegation in Strasbourg, where the parliamentary assembly is holding its January session, Lukin, challenged by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, failed to gain the support of a majority of his colleagues for another term. Zhirinovsky also failed to win the post, but managed to torpedo attempts to select a compromise candidate, leaving Russia temporarily without a representative in the assembly's leadership. -- Scott Parrish RUSSIA, MEXICO SIGN AGREEMENTS. Mexican Foreign Minster Jose Angel Gurria wrapped up a four-day official visit to Moscow by signing a bilateral declaration of principles and an agreement on visa-free travel with his Russian counterpart Yevgenii Primakov, Russian media reported. Primakov hailed the growth of Russian-Mexican trade, which he said doubled in 1996, although according to Segodnya on 29 January it still totaled only $220 million. Gurria earlier held talks with the speakers of both houses of the Federal Assembly and co-chaired a session of the bilateral economic cooperation commission with Minister of Industry Yurii Bespalov. -- Scott Parrish NEW CITIZENSHIP FIGURES RELEASED. More than 1.5 million people have been granted Russian citizenship since 1992, when the law on citizenship of the Russian Federation went into effect, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January, citing Goskomstat. Of these, 900,000 live outside Russia, including 100,000 living outside the former Soviet Union. About 40,000 people have renounced Russian citizenship during the same period. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES ON LEGAL REPRESENTATION. The Constitutional Court on 28 January ruled constitutional an article in the Criminal Procedures Code requiring that suspects be represented in preliminary criminal proceedings by counsel belonging to lawyers' collegia, Russian media reported. The court was examining a complaint from three people who were refused the lawyers of their choice. They argued that Article 47 of the Criminal Procedures Code, which limits the choice of counsel, contradicted their constitutionally guaranteed right to choose their own legal representation. The court ruled that a defendant's right to choose a lawyer should not infringe the right to qualified legal aid. Thus until new legislation is passed regulating legal qualifications, only members of lawyers' collegia are entitled to represent a suspect during preliminary investigations. Other legal specialists, including those licensed by the Justice Ministry to offer legal services, may work only as consultants at this stage. -- Penny Morvant YASIN SLAMS THE BUDGET. Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin slammed the 1997 federal budget recently approved by the Duma, calling it unrealistic and saying it contains too many new obligations, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 28 January. He argued the budget will only worsen the deteriorating economic situation in the country. Yasin termed 1996 the worst year of economic reform and blamed the current budget crisis primarily on the "chain of electoral campaigns" in Russia. Other contributing factors included the increasing cost of servicing the internal debt (5.8% of GDP in 1996), mounting non-payments, and the large underground economy (an estimated 25% of GDP). Yasin acknowledged, however, that many companies were pushed into the shadow economy by the harshness of the Russian tax system. -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA CONFLICTING REPORTS FROM ABKHAZIA. Referring to ongoing operations by Abkhaz security forces in the troubled Gali district, Abkhaz Security Service spokesman Astamur Tarba told ITAR-TASS on 28 January that the "liquidation of bandit formations" is continuing. Tarba alleged that 20 Georgian gunmen arrested over the past three days (see OMRI Daily Digest, 28 January 1997) belonged to the so-called White Legion, an organization he claimed has several hundred well-armed members and poses a threat to civilians and CIS peacekeepers. Meanwhile, the Georgian news agency Iberia reported on 27 January that Abkhaz police, using Russian peacekeepers' armored personnel carriers, had attacked local ethnic Georgians. The report, monitored by BBC, also claimed that the Abkhaz killed five Georgian civilians and took four others hostage. -- Emil Danielyan SHEVARDNADZE: YELTSIN'S HEALTH HAMPERS RUSSIA'S RELATIONS WITH GEORGIA. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 28 January that Russian President Yeltsin's poor health hampers the development of "normal" Russian-Georgian relations, AFP reported. Shevardnadze said that if Yeltsin is no longer fit to govern, he should "step down, hand over power to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and organize fresh elections." Shevardnadze also complained that Moscow has no "clear" Georgian policy, arguing that there are "as many approaches to it as there are political parties in Russia." -- Emil Danielyan TURKEY, GEORGIA TO BUILD RAIL LINK. Turkey and Georgia have agreed to build a railroad to link the two countries, Reuters reported on 28 January. Neither the cost of the railroad running from Kars to Tbilisi, nor its projected completion date, has been announced. The decision to go ahead with the project was probably made last week during what Turkish media described as the "first-ever" political consultations between Ankara and Tbilisi in the Turkish capital. -- Lowell Bezanis AZERBAIJANI POLICE OFFICIALS SENTENCED FOR TREASON. The Azerbaijan Supreme Court sentenced three top law enforcement officers to lengthy prison terms, international media reported on 29 January. Baku's former Interpol Chief Ilgar Safikhanov, Ganja's Chief of Police Eldar Hasanov, and Nizami's (region of Ganja) Chief of Police Alik Mamedov, were found guilty of high treason for involvement in the October 1994 attempted coup led by former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov. Safikhanov and Hasanov were sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, while Mamedov received 11 years; the court also confiscated their property. In other news, former Prime Minister Panakh Huseinov was released from custody, Turan reported on 28 January. Huseinov, who served under ousted President Abulfaz Elchibey, was accused of using the army to disperse protests in Ganja in 1993. -- Lowell Bezanis NAZARBAYEV DEMANDS PAYMENT OF WAGES, ACCELERATION OF REFORMS. Kazakstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev had tough words for members of the government and regional leaders at a 27 January special meeting, Reuters reported. "The issue of unpaid wages and salaries is becoming a political issue... the tempo of reforms is becoming slower and the socio-political situation is deteriorating," Nazarbayev said. He told those at the meeting they had until 1 April to solve these problems, adding there would be another meeting at that time and if the situation had not been rectified "some members of the government could be given the sack right in this hall." Government estimates of wage and pension arrears stand at 60 billion tenge ($792 million). Finance Minister Alexander Pavlov said companies did not have the money to pay wages and that 40% of Kazakstan's companies were on the verge of bankruptcy. -- Bruce Pannier NEW HEAD OF UN OBSERVERS IN TAJIKISTAN. Jordanian Gen. Hasan Abaza will be replaced as head of the UN military observer force in Tajikistan by Polish Brig.-Gen. Boleslaw Izydorczyk, RFE/RL and AFP reported on 28 January. UN Security Council President Hishashi Owada confirmed the appointment in a letter to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The UN has 44 observers in Tajikistan monitoring the ceasefire which was signed in 1994 but often ignored by the warring factions. -- Bruce Pannier [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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