You always pass failure on the way to success. - Mickey Rooney
OMRI DAILY DIGEST

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

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