|To appreciate nonsense requires a serious interest in life. - Gelett Burgess|
No. 23, Part I, 3 February 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 ****NOTE TO READERS: On 2 April, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will launch a daily news report, RFE/RL Newsline, on the countries of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. A successor to the RFE/RL Daily Report and the OMRI Daily Digest, the new daily will nonetheless represent a major departure from its predecessors. In addition to analytic materials, RFE/RL Newsline will carry news gathered by the correspondents, bureaus, and broadcast services of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. RFE/RL will disseminate this new publication both electronically and via fax to all those now receiving the OMRI Daily Digest and for the time being under the same terms.**** RUSSIA YELTSIN MEETS WITH CHIRAC. French President Jacques Chirac made a one- day working visit to Moscow on 2 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. Chirac met Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a government residence in Novo-Ogarovo, outside Moscow, for about three hours of talks on European security and bilateral ties. After the meeting, Chirac said he was "impressed" with the speed of Yeltsin's recovery from heart surgery and pneumonia. The French president said a NATO-Russia agreement could be signed before the planned July NATO summit in Madrid, when prospective East European members will be invited to begin membership talks. He added that France did not object to Moscow's demand that the agreement be a legally binding treaty, but could also accept a political declaration. Putting an upbeat spin on the meeting, NTV argued that France wants to take a "different route" to expanding the alliance than that favored by Washington. -- Scott Parrish FINAL CHECHEN ELECTION RESULTS. The Chechen Electoral Commission released the final results of the 27 January presidential election on 2 February, ITAR-TASS reported. As expected, former Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov won, with 59.3% of the vote, followed by former field commander Shamil Basaev with 23.5%, and acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev with 10.1%. The electoral commission said turnout was 79.4%, with 407,699 of 513,585 registered voters participating. Commission head Mumadi Saidaev said the delay in reporting the final results, which had drawn criticism from some Russian journalists, was permitted under Chechen law, and allowed defeated candidates to appeal the election results if they felt it necessary. The commission said a second round of voting in the Chechen parliamentary elections is scheduled for 15 February, although final results of the first round voting in the republic's 63 constituencies have not yet been tabulated. -- Scott Parrish MASKHADOV MEETS RYBKIN. Chechen President-elect Maskhadov met with Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin in Grozny on 1 February, Russian and Western agencies reported the next day. Although the final results of the 27 January Chechen presidential election had not yet been published, Rybkin handed Maskhadov a congratulatory message from Yeltsin. The Russian president termed Maskhadov's election "an important step toward defining the political relationship" between Moscow and Grozny, while expressing hope that "dialogue and cooperation" could resolve outstanding differences. AFP quoted Rybkin as saying he had urged Maskhadov to begin "serious" negotiations, and added that Moscow had already prepared several drafts of a proposed power-sharing treaty. Maskhadov, who has insisted Moscow recognize Chechnya's independence, said he is "ready for any talks with Moscow," but emphasized his view that Chechnya is already a sovereign state by saying he will not participate in the Federation Council. -- Scott Parrish CONSTITUTIONAL COURT NOT TO EXAMINE KHASAVYURT ACCORDS. The Constitutional Court announced on 31 January that it will not consider an appeal by 93 State Duma deputies against the Chechnya peace accords signed last August, Ekho Moskvy and Russian TV (RTR) reported. The deputies claimed that then-Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed exceeded his authority in signing the accords (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 and 17 September, 1 October 1996). However, the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the issue, since the accords were a political agreement rather than a treaty between the Russian Federation and one of its republics. The court has periodically shied away from controversial cases by disclaiming jurisdiction; in the famous "Chechnya case" of 1995, judges declined to pass judgment on the legality of two presidential decrees relating to the deployment of Russian troops in Chechnya (see OMRI Daily Digest, 1 August 1995). -- Laura Belin REWARD OFFERED FOR RETURN OF ORT JOURNALISTS. Although Chechen law enforcement officials announced last week that the safe return of two Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondents was imminent, Roman Perevezentsev and Vyacheslav Tibelius still have not been found. Now the Chechen Interior Ministry is offering a 10 million ruble ($1,800) reward to the law enforcement officer who frees the journalists or discovers information concerning their whereabouts, Russian TV (RTR) reported on 1 February. No one has demanded a ransom payment since the two went missing on 19 January; citing anonymous sources, ORT speculated on 1 February that the journalists may be held captive by troops under the control of outgoing Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 28 January said his associates were involved in negotiations to secure the journalists' safe return. -- Laura Belin ZYUGANOV FAVORS ARMING COSSACKS "UNDER STRICT CONTROL." After meeting with Communist Party (KPRF) activists and Cossack atamans in Moscow, KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov said he was in favor of arming Cossack units, provided that such a policy was carried out under "strict" and "reliable" state control, ITAR-TASS and Russian TV (RTR) reported on 31 January. He argued, "The greatest crime of the current authorities is that they handed out arms to everyone except those who should defend the country." Most Russian officials, with the exception of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, have spoken out against arming the Cossacks. Asked about Maskhadov's calls for complete independence from Russia, Zyuganov--who has strongly criticized the Khasavyurt peace accords signed by Lebed and Maskhadov--said the new Chechen president will face a "a number of obligations and a complicated domestic situation" and may be forced to change his position. -- Laura Belin CONFLICT OVER PROCURATOR IN CHUVASHIYA. The legislature of Chuvashiya has asked the republic's president, former Russian Justice Minster Nikolai Fedorov, to rescind his order firing republican Procurator Sergei Rusakov, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February. Fedorov fired Rusakov on 19 January, citing rampant crime in the republic. However, the Russian procurator general, who has the right to appoint and dismiss regional procurators, demanded that Fedorov take back his decree since it exceeded the powers granted him by Russian law. New Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov has also denounced his local procurator, but has so far only threatened to appeal to the federal authorities to remove him. As regional executives become more assertive across the country, they may demand that the center give them greater oversight over local law enforcement officials. Local legislatures will be able to use the conflict to promote their own agendas. -- Robert Orttung LARGE POPULATION DECLINE IN 1996. Russia's population declined by 475,000 in 1996 to 147.5 million by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January citing Goskomstat. By comparison, the population fell by 164,000 in 1995 and by only 60,000 in 1994, since immigration was higher in those years. As in the preceding two years, deaths exceeded births in 1996 by about 60%. The report did not give figures for natural loss (the population decline attributable to an excess of deaths over births) but said that the net gain of 349,500 immigrants compensated for about 40% of the natural loss. This suggests that natural loss in 1996 was about 870,000. Natural loss was greatest--10 to 13 per 1,000--in Pskov, Tula, Tver, Novgorod, Ivanovo, Yaroslavl, and Ryazan oblasts. A natural increase in the population was registered in only 10 regions, most of them non-Russian republics (Ingushetiya, Dagestan, Kalmykiya, Altai, Tyva, Sakha, Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya) -- Penny Morvant RUSSIAN OFFICIALS IN DAVOS. Encouraging more foreign investment is a top priority of the Russian government, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 31 January. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Kovalev told the forum that the FSB had set up a special unit to protect foreign investments in the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 1-2 February. He also said the security service will investigate links between Russian financial groups in Switzerland and organized crime. Kovalev stressed, however, that the problem of the "Russian mafia" is often exaggerated. Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii and Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov said that much of Russia's difficulty in attracting foreign capital stems from the absence of appropriate economic legislation and inconsistency in implementing economic reforms. -- Natalia Gurushina PRIME MINISTER SIGNS EDICT ON ALCOHOL LICENSING. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has signed a government edict on licensing imported alcohol products, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin told ITAR-TASS on 31 January. He said the new regulations, which authorize customs officials to collect excise duties and VAT before alcohol products enter the country, would go into effect on 1 February. Potanin said the measure was aimed at raising tax revenue and reducing the amount of liquor smuggled into the country. Russia had earlier planned to introduce quotas for alcohol imports but abandoned the idea in favor of licensing following objections from the International Monetary Fund. The Russian government has also taken a number of steps recently to tighten controls on the domestic production of alcohol in an attempt to raise revenues. -- Penny Morvant STATE OF RUSSIA'S GOLD RESERVES. Central Bank (TsB) spokesperson Natalya Khomenko attributed recent press reports that Russian strategic gold reserves had been depleted to a minterpretation of procedural changes, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 31 January. She stressed that the gold did not leave the country but was bought by the TsB from the Finance Ministry. Hitherto, the strategic gold reserves were kept at the State Treasure Reserve (Gokhran), which was subordinate to the Finance Ministry. The TsB's gold reserves (which are used to support the national currency) increased from some 380 metric tons in October 1996 to 400 metric tons at the end of the year. Sources within Russia's Audit Chamber, however, point out that exports of gems, platinum, and palladium in 1996 were double the expected level of 4.5-4.6 trillion rubles ($800 million at the current exchange rate). -- Natalia Gurushina TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA OFFICIALS: PLOT TO ASSASSINATE SHEVARDNADZE FOILED. A conspiracy to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and other top government officials last fall was thwarted, RFE/RL reported on 31 January. According to sources in Georgia's Ministry of Interior, the conspirators planned to assassinate Shevardnadze during the Tbilisi city festival last October and were funded and directed by the country's former top security official, Igor Georgadze. A dozen people have been arrested in connection with the plot. -- Lowell Bezanis MOSCOW ON U.S. ROLE IN KARABAKH NEGOTIATIONS. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said Moscow is opposed to U.S. efforts to secure the co-chairmanship of the OSCE-sponsored Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL reported on 1 February. Pastukhov said the American proposal is part of a wide-ranging Western campaign to challenge Russian interests in the region and the OSCE has already selected France for the position. Armenia welcomed the OSCE decision, announced in early January, while Azerbaijan prefers the U.S. to take up the post. Pastukhov alleged that Iran, Turkey, the U.S., and other NATO countries were involved in a broader campaign to edge Russia out of the region. -- Lowell Bezanis PIPELINE, CASPIAN UPDATE. The victory of Aslan Maskhadov in Chechnya's presidential election was widely interpreted as a positive sign Caspian Sea oil will flow uninterrupted through Chechnya en route to Novorissisk and world markets, Reuters reported on 31 January. The next day ITAR- TASS reported Maskhadov has given promises the oil will flow and Chechen officials will begin talks later this month with the Russian Energy Ministry on financing repairs to the pipeline through Chechnya. In other news, Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minister Yulbaz Kepbanov reiterated Ashgabat's view that the Azeri and Chirag Caspian Sea fields were within its territorial waters and it would be "incorrect" for Azerbaijan to forge ahead with drilling plans until the Caspian's status was defined, RFE/RL reported on 1 February. -- Lowell Bezanis DRUG PROBLEMS CONTINUE ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER . . . Russian border guards shot and killed one of four men attempting to cross from Afghanistan into Tajikistan on 31 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The other three fled back across the Pyanj River to Afghanistan. The same night Russian border guards apprehended another man carrying 20.6 kilos of narcotics. Radio Rossii reported on 2 February that in January Russian border guards caught 58 people trying to cross into Tajikistan illegally and confiscated more than 35 kilos of narcotics. -- Bruce Pannier . . . WHILE TASHKENT WARNS DUSHANBE. Tashkent has officially expressed "serious concern" over what it terms the increasing level of drug trafficking into Uzbekistan from Tajikistan, RFE/RL reported on 1 February. According to unnamed sources in the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tashkent fears smugglers are turning Uzbekistan into a transit country for drugs heading to other CIS countries as well as to the West, and in some cases are involved in smuggling weapons into Uzbekistan. Tashkent called on Dushanbe to make every effort to halt these activities and said it would take whatever measures were necessary to prevent future incidents. -- Lowell Bezanis [As of 12:00 CET] Compiled by Steve Kettle ------------------------------------------------------------------------ Copyright (c) 1997 Open Media Research Institute, Inc. All rights reserved. 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