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Newsline - July 26, 2001




PUTIN SAYS SLAVS MUST TRUST ONE ANOTHER

Russian President Vladimir Putin on 25 July took part in the Slavic Bazaar in Vitsebsk along with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Russian agencies reported. Putin said that Slavic cultures have "an enormous attractive power," and that "the chief thing [for the three Slavic countries] is to have absolute trust in one another." PG

PUTIN MEETS WITH AYATSKOV TO DISCUSS DESTRUCTION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS

Putin met with Saratov Oblast Governor Dmitrii Ayatskov on 25 July to discuss speeding up construction of a plant in the oblast that will destroy chemical weapons, RIA-Novosti reported. Ayatskov said that he needs an additional 700-800 million rubles ($23-27 million) to complete the project. The plant has already cost some 1.4 billion rubles. If he receives the money, Ayatskov said, the plant will be ready to begin destroying chemical weapons by the first quarter of 2002. VY

PUTIN NAMES MVD CHIEFS IN MOSCOW, FEDERAL DISTRICTS

At the recommendation of Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, Putin on 25 July named Vladimir Pronin to head the Interior Ministry administration in the Russian capital, Interfax reported. Gryzlov said that he recommended Pronin after securing the agreement of Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov. Putin also named MVD chiefs in four of the seven federal districts: Lieutenant General Aleksei Krasilnikov in the Urals district, Major General Boris Uemlyanin in the Northwest district, Lieutenant General Sergei Shchadrin in the Central district, and Lieutenant General Vladimir Shcherbakov in the Volga district. VY

PUTIN MAINTAINS POSITION IN POLLS

According to an article in "Tribuna" on 25 July, Putin would receive 44 percent of the vote were a presidential election held today. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov would trail with only 14 percent of the vote. The paper said that both the absolute and relative position of these two politicians has remained more or less constant for the last 18 months. PG

KASYANOV DEMANDS EQUAL TREATMENT FROM WTO

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in Finland on 25 July that Russia will insist on equal treatment for its application to join the World Trade Organization, Interfax reported. He welcomed Finland's offer of support in this area. Kasyanov also said that investors have overcome a certain psychological barrier and have begun to invest more heavily in Russia. Finnish Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen said that Helsinki will seek Paris Club approval for converting some of Russia's foreign debt into ecological projects, and that the two countries will begin construction of a gas pipeline from Russia to Western Europe in 2005-06, ITAR-TASS reported. PG

CABINET THANKS GOVERNMENT WORKERS FOR HELP WITH DUMA

In an unusual move, the Russian cabinet on 25 July thanked a number of senior officials and other employees of government ministries and agencies for their contribution to increased cooperation between the government and the Duma, Interfax reported. PG

IS DOBRODEEV TO BECOME HEAD OF PARDONS COMMISSION?

"Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 25 July that rumors are circulating that Oleg Dobrodeev, the head of the State Radio and Television Company (VGTRK), will be named head of the Presidential Pardons Commission. VGTRK spokesmen have denied these rumors, the paper said. But it noted that there is now a power struggle in the commission among those who want officials to take control of the commission, those who favor the current public member system with some modifications, and those who would like to abolish the commission altogether. PG

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES ON PAST PRIVATIZATIONS

The Constitutional Court on 25 July ruled that privatizations can be reversed if participants in the process have not complied with the terms of the agreement, but that such reversals require the decision of a court, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian government officials, including First Deputy Property Relations Minister Aleksandr Braverman, welcomed the decision. PG

IVANOV, POWELL AGREE ON TALKS, PUTIN VISIT TO U.S.

On the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Hanoi on 25 July, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed on a framework for bilateral talks on offensive and defensive strategic weapons, Russian and Western agencies reported. After their meeting, Ivanov told the press that Putin will visit the United States in November 2001 at the invitation of U.S. President George W. Bush. Ivanov said at the ASEAN meeting that Moscow backs the formation of regional codes of behavior in order to prevent the emergence of crises, RIA-Novosti reported. He also said that a unilateral abrogation by the United States of the 1972 ABM Treaty could lead to an arms race in Asia. VY

RUSHAILO SAYS TALKS WITH RICE 'SUBSTANTIVE AND CONSTRUCTIVE'

Russian National Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said on 25 July that his talks with visiting U.S. national security adviser Condoleezza Rice were "substantive and constructive" and represented "a follow-up to the recent meetings between the presidents of Russia and the U.S.," ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Duma deputy (Fatherland-All Russia) and former Russian Security Council Secretary Andrei Kokoshin said on NTV the same day that "movement [on modifying the 1972 ABM Treaty] is possible." Professor Vladimir Belous of the Academy of Military Sciences told ITAR-TASS on 25 July that the two countries should negotiate not only on the reduction of delivery vehicles but also on the destruction of nuclear warheads. PG

RUSSIAN-U.S. TRADE DOWN SLIGHTLY

Trade turnover between Russia and the United States fell by 3 percent during the first five months of 2001 compared with the same period last year, ITAR-TASS reported. The U.S. currently is Russia's largest trading partner, with bilateral trade between the two countries amounting to 5 percent of Russia's total trade. PG

MOSCOW WRITES OFF DEBTS OF DEVELOPING COUNTRIES

As part of the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, the Russian government has written off $572 million in debts owed to it by the poorest of developing countries, Russian and Western agencies reported on 25 July. PG

MOSCOW, HANOI AGREE ON RUSSIAN DEPARTURE FROM CAM RANH BAY BASE

A source in the delegation accompanying Foreign Minister Ivanov to the ASEAN meeting told ITAR-TASS on 25 July that Moscow and Hanoi have agreed to shut down the Russian naval base at Cam Ranh Bay. Meanwhile, "Kommersant-Daily" the same day quoted Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying that the Vietnamese base is "not cost-effective" as "Russian warships have called on this base [only] three times in recent years." PG

MIRONOV WANTS HUMAN RIGHTS OFFICIALS IN FEDERAL DISTRICTS

Russian human rights ombudsman Oleg Mironov told Interfax on 25 July that he wants the Duma to adopt legislation that will require that there be a special human rights ombudsman attached to the leaders of all of the federal districts except the central one. There, he said, the federal ombudsman could take responsibility. PG

IS THE MVD CHALLENGING THE FSB FOR LEADERSHIP OF CHECHEN OPERATION?

First Deputy Interior Minister Vladimir Vasiliev said on 25 July that he does not exclude the possibility that the Kremlin will transfer the main responsibility for the campaign in Chechnya from the Federal Security Service (FSB) to the Interior Ministry (MVD), RIA-Novosti reported. Vasiliev said that it would be natural for the Interior Ministry to take over once the FSB meets the goals set by Putin for the antiterrorist operation. VY

PASKO WANTS NAVY CHIEF TO TESTIFY

Russian military journalist Grigorii Pasko on 25 July demanded that the court hearing his trial on charges of treason call navy Commander in Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov as a witness, AP reported. The court has refused Pasko's request, the agency said. PG

GORDIEVSKY SAYS WEST VIEWS RUSSIAN SPYING AS IRRELEVANT

Oleg Gordievsky, the former Soviet and British double agent who now lives in London, said in an interview published in "Argumenty i fakty" on 25 July that "nobody in the West cares any longer about Russian spying." Instead, he said, Western intelligence services are concentrating on international terrorist groups and rogue states like Iraq. He added that the letters "KGB" no longer generate fear in the West and that the expulsion of 50 employees of the Russian Embassy in Washington earlier this year was "a trick played by the new administration." He said that the Bush administration wanted to replace numerous officials at the American Embassy in Moscow and decided to have Moscow do the job for them. VY

MOSCOW HAS NO COMMENT ON U.S. REPORT ABOUT RUSSIAN SPYING

Russian special services on 25 July refused to comment on a report in "The Washington Times" that Russia is using its commercial fishing fleet to gather intelligence information about American nuclear submarines and other defense facilities, Interfax reported. PG

FSB PREPARES PLAN FOR OVERCOMING OLIGARCH SYSTEM

The FSB's Economic Stability Institute has drafted a report calling for a radical change in Russia's economic policies and the transformation of the current system of oligarchic rule to a national system, "Argumenty i fakty" reported on 25 July. The FSB report argues that the Kremlin and the government must "neutralize the appalling results of the so-called reforms of 1992-99" and "revise the results of unlawful privatization." It also calls for giving the FSB control over parts of the Central Bank, Customs Service, and Financial Intelligence Police in order to stop any further capital flight. To ensure that the population supports these measures against the oligarchs, the FSB report calls on the government to take full control over all mass media outlets with a circulation or viewership of more than 200,000. VY

DISPLACED RAILWAY WORKERS OFFERED JOBS ON BAM CONSTRUCTION

Railways Minister Nikolai Aksenenko told Putin on 24 July that the 500,000 railwaymen dismissed from their positions last year and the 400,000 more who are to be fired by 2005 can be put to work on the construction of the Baikal-Amur Mainline (BAM), "Kommersant-Daily" reported the following day. Aksenenko has been urging for several years that the construction of BAM be renewed and extended, and Putin's plans for an east-west transport corridor have provided him with an opening, the paper said. PG

EMERGENCY SITUATIONS MINISTRY FACES 40 CATASTROPHES A MONTH

Mikhail Shakhmanyan, the head of the Emergency Situations Ministry's monitoring and prediction center, was quoted by "Nezavisimaya gazeta" in an article published on 25 July as saying that his experts predict that there will be approximately 40 technical catastrophes every month in addition to a variety of natural disasters. PG

40 ACCIDENTS AT RUSSIAN NUCLEAR POWER FACILITIES SINCE 1993

In an article published in the 24-30 July issue of "Versiya," Vladimir Kuznetsov, a member of the Higher Ecological Council of the Duma Ecology Committee, listed all the accidents at nuclear power facilities in Russia up to 1992 and said that secret reports show that there have been an additional 40 accidents that have potentially harmed both operators and people living nearby since 1993. He said that operators use drugs, that security is lax, and that officials do whatever they can to cover up accidents and their consequences. Given this record, Kuznetsov asked rhetorically, "What awaits us after 20 tons of foreign nuclear trash arrives in Russia?" PG

OPEC DECISION PUSHES RUSSIAN STOCK PRICES UP

The OPEC oil cartel's decision to reduce oil production by a million barrels a day as of 1 September will cause a stock market rally in Russia, "Vedomosti" predicted on 25 July. On that day, RIA-Novosti reported, key Russian stock averages rose 1.18 percent. Meanwhile, 22 Russian oil and gas companies said that they will cut exports because of payment arrears, Interfax reported. That move will likely help OPEC increase world prices for oil. VY/PG

ENERGY MINISTRY TO BE GIVEN GREATER CONTROL OVER OIL AND GAS EXPORTS

Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Khristenko said on 25 July that the Russian government is preparing a draft decision that will make the energy minister "the coordinator for exports" of oil and gas, Interfax reported. PG

PROPERTY QUESTIONS LIKELY TO PREVENT UNION OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ABROAD WITH MOSCOW PATRIARCHATE

According to an analysis in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii" on 25 July, whatever chances that exist for a union between the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad and the Moscow Patriarchate are likely to founder on the different property arrangements in the two. The emigre church, the paper said, allows each of its congregations to own its own facilities, while the Patriarchate claims ownership of all churches subordinate to it. PG

SALVATION ARMY PROTESTS RUSSIAN PLANS TO SHUT DOWN ITS OPERATION IN MOSCOW

Colonel Kenneth Baillie, the chief representative of the Salvation Army in Russia, said in Moscow on 25 July that Russian government's plans to close down its operations in the Russian capital are based on "ridiculous and absurd charges," AP reported. Among the charges levied by Russian prosecutors is that the charitable organization is in fact "a paramilitary group" based on "barracks-style discipline." The Russian Orthodox Church has complained that the Salvation Army has used its humanitarian assistance to try to make converts of Orthodox Russians. But Vladimir Zhbankov, the deputy head of the Main Administration of the Russian Justice Ministry in Moscow, said that the Salvation Army will be liquidated as a juridical person but can continue to function as a social organization, Interfax reported. Without the status of a juridical person, the Salvation Army will not be able to rent property, have a bank account, or sign contracts and thus will be severely limited in its ability to operate. The Army's international office has appealed to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg and that body has agreed to hear the case. PG

JUSTICE MINISTRY RULES AGAINST THEOLOGY TRAINING IN STATE SCHOOLS

The Justice Ministry has ruled that plans to provide theological training in state universities and other institutions violate the Russian Constitution and numerous Russian laws, "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii" reported on 25 July. The weekly supplement suggested that this ruling will effectively put an end to efforts to introduce such a specialty in these institutions. PG

RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS COVERING RELIGION SUBJECT TO PRESS ATTACKS

According to an article in "Nezavisimaya gazeta-Religii" on 25 July, members of the recently established Guild of Religious Journalists are being subjected to increasingly frequent attacks by nationalist and extremist groups that oppose the guild's commitment to accurate and balanced coverage of religious questions. PG

PAPER WARNED FOR PUBLISHING FAKE PUTIN MESSAGE

The Media Ministry has sent a warning to the editors of Yekaterinburg's "Oblastnaya gazeta" for publishing a supposed message of greeting from Putin to Russian Defense Expo-2001 that Putin did not write or sign, Interfax reported on 25 July. PG

DRUG PROBLEM INCREASINGLY SERIOUS COUNTRYWIDE

Interior Minister Gryzlov said in Nizhnii Novgorod on 25 July that the spread of illegal drug use has become so great that it now constitutes "a national misfortune," Interfax reported. He said that there are now 451,000 registered abusers but that the real number is six to seven times higher. But a poll conducted by monitoring.ru and reported by Interfax the same day suggests that the actual number of drug users may even be far higher than Gryzlov's revised estimate. The sampling found that 24 percent of all Russians are personally acquainted with people who regularly use illegal drugs, and that among young people that figure rises to 50 percent. PG

RUSSIANS SAID MORE WORRIED ABOUT THE HEAT THAN ABOUT INFLATION

According to an article in "Trud" on 25 July, Russians are far more concerned about the hot weather this summer than they are about reports concerning rising inflation. The article suggested that, in many cases, their incomes so far have more than kept up with inflation and consequently they feel ahead of the game. PG

THOSE WHO DON'T PAY BILLS WON'T BE IN COLD WATER EITHER

Russian firms have often shut off hot water or even electricity to those who have not paid their communal service bills, but the situation in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast with regard to payment arrears has become so serious that officials there have begun to cut off cold water to debtors as well, Interfax-Eurasia reported on 25 July. PG

CONSTITUTIONAL EXPERT ARGUES FOR KEEPING POWER-SHARING AGREEMENTS

In an interview with "Moskovskie novosti" on 24 July, Sergei Shakhrai, a former official from the administration of then-President Boris Yeltsin, comments on the commission recently established to define the responsibilities between the federal center and regions. Shakhrai, who participated in the negotiations for dozens of power-sharing agreements, commented that the agreements do not contradict the constitution as some Kremlin officials have asserted and should not be "thrown in the trash bin." According to Shakhrai, the agreements can be used as "instruments for resolving government tasks," such as when the situation in Chechnya reaches "a political plateau," at which point an agreement could be reached similar to the one that exists with Tatarstan. In addition, Shakhrai argues that the agreements could be utilized to play a role in the "optimization of the territorial structure of the country" such as the enlargement of certain regions. JAC

DOES RUSSIA ALREADY HAVE MORE NUCLEAR WASTE THAN IT CAN HANDLE?

The construction of a nuclear waste treatment plant will begin at the Smolensk atomic power plant in September, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 July. The plant will be part of a TACIS program at the station. According to the agency, nuclear waste is produced faster in Russia than it can be processed; last year the nuclear industry produced some 807,900 tons of toxic waste, of which only 60,000 tons was completely processed. On 11 July, President Putin signed a bill allowing imports of spent nuclear fuel (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 July 2001). JAC

TURKEY SAYS NO NUCLEAR WASTE MAY BE SHIPPED TO RUSSIA VIA STRAITS

Two senior Turkish government officials have warned that Ankara will not permit nuclear waste to be transported by sea to Russia via the Bosporus and Turkish straits for storage in Russia, "The New York Times" reported on 26 July. The Turkish leadership hopes to amend existing international agreements on shipping via the Turkish straits to legally prohibit such transports. LF

BASHKORTOSTAN, TATARSTAN BOOST TAX REVENUE COLLECTION...

Midkhat Shagiakhmetov, the head of the federal Tax Ministry's branch in Kazan, said on 24 July that 22 billion rubles ($750 million) in taxes have been collected so far in 2001, with the federal center getting more and Tatarstan less, RFE/RL's Kazan bureau reported. He noted that 42 percent of the taxes had to be collected "by force because of the low discipline of taxpayers." Four days earlier, Galiya Lukmanova, the deputy head of the Tax Ministry's branch in Ufa, said that in the last six months 23.8 billion rubles in taxes have been collected and Bashkortostan has transferred 11.6 billion rubles to Moscow -- 2.4 times the previous year's sum, RFE/RL's Ufa correspondent reported on 20 July (see "RFE/RL Russian Federation Report," 25 July 2001). JAC

...AS ELECTRICITY MONOPOLY DENOUNCES REPUBLICS' MERGER PLAN

Meanwhile, the head of Unified Energy Systems' (EES) press service, Yurii Melikhov, said on 24 July that the planned merger between Tatenergo and Bashkirenergo will fail and that the rationale for the merger is more political than economic. He added that neither subsidiary has never been independent of EES and will not be in the future since they will remain part of a national power network. JAC

MEDIA ASK COURT TO OPEN UP TRIAL OF ALLEGED TERRORISTS

Journalists in Stavropol Krai have appealed to the Supreme Court asking that the trial of five accused terrorists be open to the public, RFE/RL's Stavropol correspondent reported on 25 July. The five residents of Karachaevo-Cherkessia are accused of taking part in the bombing of apartment buildings in Moscow in the fall of 1999 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 July 2001). Two Stavropol newspapers, "Stavropolskaya pravda" and "Vechernii Stravropol," argue that the closure of the hearing violates the constitution, the criminal code, and law on mass media. JAC




ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT GUNMEN'S LEADER AGAIN INSISTS KILLINGS 'NOT PREMEDITATED'

Testifying during his ongoing trial in Yerevan, Nairi Hunanian again insisted on 25 July that the shootings by himself and four other gunmen of eight senior officials in the Armenian parliament on 27 October 1999 were undertaken spontaneously in self-defense, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 May 2001). Relatives of the murdered men remain convinced that the killings were premeditated and that the gunmen acted not on their own initiative, as Hunanian claims, but at the behest of senior figures within the Armenian leadership. LF

ARMS CACHE FOUND AT REGIONAL OFFICE OF FORMER ARMENIAN RULING PARTY

The head of the Vanadzor branch of the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), Ashot Manukian, has been arrested after Armenian National Security officials discovered quantities of grenades, detonators, and ammunition on 23 July at the party's Vanadzor office and a second location in the town, Mediamax reported the following day. Commenting on that find on 25 July, the pro-government daily "Hayots ashkharh" accused the HHSh of plotting "large-scale terrorist acts" in a bid to overthrow the present leadership and return to power. LF

U.S. EXPRESSES CONCERN OVER IRANIAN THREAT TO AZERBAIJAN

U.S. State Department spokesman Philip Reeker on 25 July told journalists that Washington is "particularly concerned" by the 23 July incident in which an Iranian warship and military aircraft forced two Azerbaijani oil-survey ships leased by BP to leave an offshore deposit in Azerbaijan's sector of the Caspian, Turan reported. He termed the Iranian action "inconsistent with the peaceful process underway...in terms of demarcating the Caspian Sea," and called for disputes between littoral states to be resolved peacefully. LF

CHEVRON'S FIRST AZERBAIJANI CASPIAN TEST WELL NOT VIABLE

A spokesman for U.S.-based Chevron oil said on 25 July that the first test well drilled at the Apsheron oil field did not yield hydrocarbons in commercially viable quantities. Chevron has a 30 percent stake in the consortium to exploit that field, which at the time the contract was signed to develop it four years ago was said to have estimated reserves of 120 million metric tons of oil and 400 billion cubic meters of gas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 August and 12 November 1997). Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR has a 50 percent stake in Apsheron and Total-Fina-Elf the remaining 20 percent. LF

UN SECURITY COUNCIL DISCUSSES ABKHAZIA

The UN Security Council on 25 July discussed the latest report by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on the situation in Abkhazia, Caucasus Press reported. That report expresses concern at the recent upsurge of murders and abductions in Abkhazia, and at "attempts to hold the peace process hostage to political demands." It called on the Abkhaz authorities to reconsider their consistent refusal to enter into any negotiations on the future status of Abkhazia within Georgia. It did not, contrary to statements attributed by Caucasus Press on 25 July to Abkhaz parliament in exile Chairman Tamaz Nadareishvili, ignore the problem of how to resolve the conflict and expedite the repatriation of Georgian displaced persons, but devotes "much attention" to the issue of restoring the sewage system in the Abkhaz raions of Gali and Ochamchira. It noted in one sentence that 29 schools in Gali, the home of many of the Georgian displaced persons, lack heating, water, and sanitary facilities. LF

JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES APPEAL TO GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT FOR PROTECTION

Following a total of over 80 attacks on its members by followers of defrocked Georgian Orthodox priest Basil Mkalavishvili, the Jehovah's Witnesses congregation in Georgia has appealed to the Georgian parliament to "compel state agencies to uphold the law and constitution" and prevent further such assaults on religious freedom, Caucasus Press reported on 25 July. LF

GEORGIA AVOIDS BUDGET SEQUESTER (FOR NOW)

The recommendations, presented to the Georgian government on 24 July, of a visiting IMF delegation do not include sequestration of this year's budget despite the budget deficit for the first six months of the year, Tax Incomes Minister Mikhail Machavariani told journalists in Tbilisi on 25 July. Between January-June 2001, budget revenues amounted to only 356.4 million laris ($172 million) instead of the planned 417 million laris. LF

BRANCH OF NATIONAL UNIVERSITY TO OPEN IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA

A branch of Tbilisi State University will open in September in the predominantly Armenian-populated region of Akhalkalaki in southern Georgia, Caucasus Press reported on 25 July, quoting presidential representative to the region Gigla Baramidze. The academic staff will be recruited locally; it is not clear whether the language of instruction will be Georgian, or Armenian or Russian, which are the two languages most widely used in that part of southern Georgia. The opening of the university is intended to halt the outmigration of young people from the region. LF

KAZAKHSTAN MAY COMPETE WITH RUSSIA TO STORE NUCLEAR WASTE

Kazakhstan has the facilities to store low- and medium-active nuclear waste from abroad and will use the fees from doing so for the reclamation of territories contaminated by industrial activities, ITAR-TASS quoted Kazatomprom President Mukhtar Dzhakishev as telling journalists in Astana on 25 July. Dzhakishev said Astana needs some $1.1 billion for that purpose. But he ruled out the storage of highly radioactive nuclear waste, according to Interfax. LF

CONFUSION OVER SHOOT-OUT ON KYRGYZ BORDER...

General Bolot Djanuzakov, the secretary of the Kyrgyz National Security Service, told RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau on 25 July that it is not certain whether the gunmen who opened fire on a Kyrgyz border post on the frontier between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan late the previous day were members of the banned Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) as earlier reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2001). Djanuzakov said they may have been drug traffickers. LF

...AS TAJIKISTAN SAYS NO THREAT FROM ITS TERRITORY

Also on 25 July, Tajik Security Council Secretary Amirqul Azimov told Asia Plus-Blitz that there are no members of the IMU on Tajik territory, nor is there any threat to Kyrgyzstan from Tajikistan. He dismissed as "groundless" Russian media reports that Islamic militants were assembling on the Tajik side of the Tajik-Kyrgyz border. LF




LUKASHENKA, PUTIN, KUCHMA MEET AT SLAVIC FESTIVAL IN BELARUS

The presidents of Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Vladimir Putin, and Leonid Kuchma, respectively -- met for informal talks in Vitsebsk on 25 July. Lukashenka told journalists that they discussed international problems and issues of mutual interest, including the recent G7 plus Russia summit in Genoa and the U.S. proposals for a missile defense system. The three presidents also attended the gala concert of the Slavic Bazaar musical festival in Vitsebsk. The well-publicized visit of Putin and Kuchma to Belarus was seen by many Belarusian commentators as propagandistic support for Lukashenka ahead of the presidential elections in September. Lukashenka opened the Slavic Bazaar festival on 20 July. During the opening ceremony, his bodyguards beat into unconsciousness opposition Young Front activist Andrey Kanoprykau, who had unfurled a white-red-white banner and tried to throw opposition leaflets into the crowd, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported. JM

MINSK HAS NOT YET INVITED OSCE OBSERVERS FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS

Hans Georg Wieck, the head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Minsk, said on 25 July that the Belarusian authorities have not yet invited OSCE monitors for the 9 September presidential ballot. Wieck added that, according to an earlier announcement, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights has already prepared a group of 14 long-term observers. Halina Syamdzyanava from the Consultative Council of Opposition Politician Parties commented that the Belarusian authorities are deliberately delaying the invitation in order to prevent OSCE monitors from observing the registration of presidential candidates. "The verification of signatures [collected by presidential hopefuls] has already begun, but we have so far not been informed how many people actually submitted 100,000 signatures," Syamdzyanava added. JM

KUCHMA'S FORMER BODYGUARD THREATENS TO GIVE SECRET RECORDINGS TO WESTERN EXPERTS

Ukrainian legislator Oleksandr Zhyr told journalists on 25 July that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will pass the secret recordings he made in Ukrainian President Kuchma's office in 2000 to Western experts if Ukraine fails to organize an appropriate investigation into the "tape scandal," Interfax reported. Zhyr said he recently met with Melnychenko in the U.S., where Melnychenko told the legislator that he has not passed his original recordings to anybody, and therefore he is not a traitor nor a defector. According to Zhyr, Melnychenko wants the authenticity of his recordings to be confirmed by a commission formed in Ukraine. Zhyr also suggested that Melnychenko has recordings implicating top Ukrainian officials in illegal trade in weapons. JM

POLL SAYS 30 PERCENT OF UKRAINIANS WANT COMMON STATE WITH RUSSIA, BELARUS

In a poll conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology in June among 10,475 people, 29.6 percent of respondents said Ukraine should unite in a single state with Russia and Belarus, Interfax reported on 26 July. In a similar poll conducted in December 1997, the number of respondents opting for a single state of the three Slavic nations was greater by 3 percent. In June 2001, 57.9 percent of respondents chose the option, saying that "Ukraine and Russia should be independent but friendly states, with an open border, without visas and customs houses," while 10.7 percent said Ukraine should maintain the same border and visa regime with Russia as it does with other states. JM

AGRICULTURAL PRODUCTION IN ESTONIA INCREASING

The Statistics Office announced on 25 July that in the first half of this year the production of milk has increased by 11 percent, eggs by 5 percent, and meat and poultry by 3 percent in comparison to the same period last year, ETA reported. The production of milk increased by 33,300 tons to 341,800 tons primarily due to an increase in the average yield of milk per cow by 254 kilograms to 2,486 kilograms. Egg production increased from 134.8 million to 141.6 million eggs. The live weight of meat and poultry slaughtered rose by 1,500 tons to 45,000 tons. The number of cattle, pigs, and sheep being raised has also increased. SG

LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES GREATER 2002 BUDGET DEFICIT

The government on 24 July approved anticipated 2002 budget revenues of 741 million lats ($1.16 billion) and expenditures of 855.6 million lats, LETA and BNS reported. The resulting budget deficit will make up about 2.76 percent of GDP, much higher than this year's anticipated deficit of 1.8 percent of GDP. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins said that greater expenditures are needed to facilitate efforts at NATO and EU integration as well as increased funding for education. The 2002 budget must be filed by 1 October with the parliament, which before approving it will probably attempt to reduce the deficit by cutting expenditures since increasing revenues is unlikely. SG

INDUSTRIAL CONFIDENCE INDICATOR CONTINUES TO FALL IN LITHUANIA

The Statistics Department announced on 25 July that Lithuania's industrial confidence indicator, which reflects business trends in the country, fell from -8 in May to -10 in June, BNS reported. This March, the indicator was positive (+2) for the first time in seven years, but it has subsequently declined. The indicator is calculated by evaluating the demand for industrial production as well as forecasts for industry and industrial reserves. The decrease in the indicator in June was primarily due to a decline in production; 24 percent of the respondents said that their production output fell in June compared to 14 percent who said that in May. The share of respondents whose production output increased in June was 34 percent compared to 45 percent in May, while the share whose production remained unchanged fell from 43 to 41 percent. The percentage of respondents anticipating a decline in production output in the next three to four months grew from 16 percent in May to 18 percent in June, while those seeing an increase fell from 27 to 24 percent. SG

POLISH GOVERNMENT PLEDGES AID TO FLOOD VICTIMS

At an emergency meeting on 25 July, Jerzy Buzek's cabinet promised 300 million zlotys ($70 million) in financial aid -- including up to 6,000 zlotys per family -- to the areas affected by recent severe floods, PAP reported. The worst-hit areas are Malopolska and the Swiety Krzyz provinces in southern Poland. The Interior Ministry reported that 1,000 people were evacuated, another 1,200 abandoned their homes, and 1,000 may need to be rescued. The flooding has claimed 10 lives thus far. Poland's worst flooding occurred in 1997, in which 55 people died and property damage was estimated at some $2 billion. JM

ROMANY CZECH TV REPORTER TURNED BACK BY BRITISH...

Romany reporter Richard Samko was refused permission to fly to London by British officials at Prague's Ruzyne airport on 23 July, while an ethnic Czech reporter who provided the same answers to the screening form was accepted, CTK reported on 25 July. Samko said the initial questioning lasted five minutes, but then he was taken to a separate room and questioned for 25 minutes. He was then told "that they didn't have enough proof that I wanted to visit England as a tourist." British Ambassador David Broucher has said that the checks, which began on 18 July, are not directed at Roma and officials do not judge passengers by the color of their skin. DW

...WHO GOVERNMENT INSISTS ARE CONSULAR OFFICIALS

The Foreign Ministry, along with Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Rychetsky, have denied that British immigration officials are screening London-bound passengers at Ruzyne airport, CTK reported on 25 July. The 1975 intergovernmental agreement on the basis of which the checks are being made only permits consular officials to work in the other country. Rychetsky also denied that the checks are discriminatory. "We have not discovered a single case of discrimination," he said, adding that the officials only recommend to the airline to exclude the passenger. Czech Airlines, however, said that if the recommendation is not followed, British officials fine the airline 2,000 pounds. DW

AI POINTS TO CZECH FAILURE TO PROTECT ROMANY CITIZENS

In a report issued on 25 July for a UN conference on racism to be held in South Africa next month, Amnesty International has again pointed to the Czech Republic's failure to protect its Romany citizens from racially motivated attacks, CTK reported. The report said that police don't take accusations of racially motivated attacks seriously enough, and that courts give light sentences to perpetrators of the attacks. In other news, Mikulas Horvath of the Romany Civic Initiative in Ostrava, north Moravia, said he cannot rule out clashes between the unarmed self-defense patrols the Roma there have proposed in reaction to recent attacks, and members of the far-right Republican Party youth movement who want to monitor the patrols. Horvath called the situation in Ostrava "highly emotional." DW

CZECH GOVERNMENT'S 2002 BUDGET TO INCREASE DEFICIT

The Czech cabinet on 25 July released its draft budget for 2002, which includes a 30 percent increase in the state deficit, dpa reported. In addition, analysts have warned that the projected deficit of 53.9 billion crowns ($1.4 billion) -- up from this year's projected deficit of 40 billion crowns -- may be overly optimistic, as are the budget's forecasted tax revenues. Tax revenues for this year have also been below government expectations. The same day, the International Monetary Fund said it expects the Czech public deficit to reach 11.5 percent of GDP by the end of the year. DW

SLOVAK PRESIDENT HOSPITALIZED BRIEFLY IN BRAZIL

Rudolf Schuster on 25 July was hospitalized for one day in Cuiaba, the capital of the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, Reuters reported. Doctors determined that Schuster's health problems were caused by food poisoning. Schuster is currently on vacation in Brazil, where he had planned to stay for one month. JM

POLL FINDS SLOVAKS SUPPORTIVE OF EU, NATO MEMBERSHIP

According to a poll by the MVK polling agency conducted from 10-17 July among 1,105 people, Slovakia's potential accession into the EU is supported by 76.6 percent of respondents and opposed by 10.5 percent. Membership in NATO is supported by 52.5 percent of respondents and opposed by 37.5 percent. JM

MAJORITY OF HUNGARIANS WOULD VOTE FOR JOINING EU

A poll released on 25 July showed that some 54 percent of Hungarians respondents would vote for joining the EU if a referendum were held, Reuters reported. The poll, which was taken in April and May by the GfK market research institute, interviewed 1,000 people. About 15 percent of the Hungarians polled said they oppose joining the EU, while the rest were undecided on the issue. The poll contrasted with the results of the same poll taken in other perspective EU member countries, in which less than 50 percent of those polled said they favor joining the EU: Poland (44 percent), the Czech Republic (42 percent), Slovenia (42 percent), and Estonia (48 percent). Hungary is considered a frontrunner for membership in the EU and is expected to join the union in 2004. PB

HUNGARY SETS UP FUND TO BUY BACK ILLEGALLY PURCHASED FARMLAND

Prime Minister Viktor Orban said on 25 July that the government will set up a fund to repurchase agricultural land that had been acquired illegally, dpa reported. The National Land Fund will use 5 billion forints ($17.7 million) to try and end foreign speculation of farmland ahead of Hungary's expected entry into the EU. Although only Hungarian citizens are allowed to buy farmland, the government thinks that many Hungarians have signed "pocket-contracts" with foreigner citizens in anticipation of the land law being changed once Hungary joins the EU. The National Land Fund will attempt to buy back farmland that the original owner sold to a foreigner. In negotiating with the EU, Hungary has asked for a 10-year transition period banning the sale of land to foreigners there upon the country's accession into the EU. PB




MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN GUERRILLAS BEGIN WITHDRAWAL

AP and dpa reported on 26 July that fighters of the National Liberation Army (UCK) have begun withdrawing from positions they recently assumed near Tetovo (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2001). The move comes in the wake of a government ultimatum and as a result of negotiations between the UCK and NATO representatives. Defense Ministry officials acknowledged that the UCK is withdrawing, adding that ethnic Macedonians who fled the area will be bussed back to their homes later in the day. Reuters reported, however, that one UCK officer, Commander Leka, is reluctant to withdraw his forces lest he "leave civilians unprotected." PM

ROBERTSON, SOLANA ON 'LAST-DITCH' MISSION TO MACEDONIA

Political talks are expected to resume soon, AP reported from Skopje on 26 July. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson; EU security policy chief Javier Solana; and Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana, who holds the OSCE rotating chair, are expected to meet with political leaders in Skopje later in the day, Reuters reported. Robertson said: "If we can help to get the negotiations back on track, then I hope we will save this country from the killing and carnage that has become the hallmark of Balkan civil wars." PM

MACEDONIAN SOCIAL-DEMOCRATIC LEADER BLASTS JINGOISTS

Branko Crvenkovski said in Skopje on 25 July that "waging war with the whole world will not save Macedonia. [Such a conflict] will be lost before it even starts," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2001). Crvenkovski added that "our priority must be gaining international support...That's the job of a responsible government and not to offer the people suicidal politics... Today, Macedonia is not defended by destroying shops or beating up journalists. It is defended in Tetovo. The chance for a political solution is defended in Tetovo. If Tetovo falls, it will be a defeat for all Macedonia." PM

BUSH CALLS FOR 'LEADERSHIP' IN MACEDONIA

U.S. President George W. Bush believes that time has come for politicians in Macedonia to "show leadership" and seek a peaceful resolution to the crisis, dpa reported from Washington on 25 July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2001). His spokesman, Ari Fleischer, said that "the president does not believe there is any military solution to the problem in Macedonia, there is only a peaceful solution. There is no alternative to a political dialogue in Macedonia." PM

U.S. WARNS MACEDONIA AGAINST 'BALKAN CONSPIRACY THEORIES'

State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington on 25 July that some Macedonian authorities are wrong in suggesting that the U.S. aids and abets the guerrillas, RFE/RL reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 July 2001). "The allegations that have been made in some quarters about our supporting ethnic Albanian extremists are unfair, they're inaccurate, and they are wrong. This is not the time for Balkan conspiracy theories, this is the time for all of the leaders in Macedonia of all ethnicities to work together on a political solution." Reeker added that "the abuse by armed extremists of the cease-fire to improve their military positions is unacceptable. And we condemn the cease-fire violations by the so-called National Liberation Army [UCK] and its continuing pursuit of territorial gain in blatant violation of the cease-fire pledge." PM

GOVERNING COALITION SPLITS FORCES IN SERBIAN PARLIAMENT

Legislators from the governing Democratic Opposition of Serbia (DOS) coalition lost their majority in the Serbian parliament because deputies from three parties left the DOS faction, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 26 July, quoting "Politika." The three parties are the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS), Movement for a Democratic Serbia (PDS), and New Serbia (NS). The previous day, Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic rejected charges by the DSS, which is headed by Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica, that the government is corrupt and must be reorganized. Djindjic called on the DSS to provide evidence to support its charges. DSS leader Dusan Prorokovic published an open letter to the government on the subject of corruption in the Belgrade daily "Vecernje novosti" on 26 July. PM

VOJVODINA LEADERS TO 'INTERNATIONALIZE' ISSUE?

Nenad Canak, Miodrag Isakov, and Jozef Kasza, who head the three largest parties in Vojvodina, called on DOS to clarify the autonomous status of the province by 3 August, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported on 25 July. If the parties do not receive an acceptable response from DOS, the leaders will seek to "internationalize the problem of Vojvodina." They did not elaborate. Vojvodina, like Kosova, enjoyed considerable autonomy under the 1974 Yugoslav Constitution until former President Slobodan Milosevic abolished that status more than a decade ago. PM

YUGOSLAV EMBASSY STAFF MARKS 'HAPPIEST DAY'

Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle blessed the Yugoslav Embassy in Washington, "Vesti" reported on 26 July. Ambassador Milan Protic said that the patriarch's visit is "the happiest day in the life of all employees of the Yugoslav Embassy in Washington." Pavle rebuffed criticism from some observers in Serbia that the church is seeking to play a role in state affairs. The patriarch stressed that the church does not act without an invitation from the authorities, adding that he hopes that "people themselves will see what has to be done." The Podgorica daily "Vijesti" called the developments at the Washington Embassy "scandalous." Supporters of the church argue that Serbia needs to return to its roots and to undergo a moral renewal. Critics say that the church has no place in the political life of a modern multiethnic and multireligious society (see "RFE/RL South Slavic Report," 18 and 25 January and 26 July 2001). PM

BOSNIAN SERB PARLIAMENT ADOPTS LAW ON HAGUE COOPERATION

The legislature in Banja Luka approved on 25 July a draft law on cooperation with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. All 31 legislators from Radovan Karadzic's Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) voted for the measure, which will become law on 15 September. Justice Minister Biljana Maric said that "the Republika Srpska will no longer be an enclave that does not cooperate with the tribunal in The Hague." The Republika Srpska authorities have not handed a single indicted war criminal over to the tribunal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 23 July 2001). PM

MONTENEGRO TAKES CROATIAN JOURNALISTS TO COURT

The government of Montenegro and President Milo Djukanovic filed a lawsuit in Zagreb on 25 July against four journalists from the private weekly "Nacional," RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported. In a recent series of articles, the four charged that Djukanovic and Djindjic are part of a regional cigarette-smuggling ring. PM

CROATIAN PRIME MINISTER FORMALLY ANNOUNCES BORDER DEAL WITH SLOVENIA

Prime Minister Ivica Racan said in Zagreb on 25 July that "resolving open issues in relations with our neighbors is a priority of this government. With this agreement we are [removing] one of those open issues," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2001). He noted that "to put it literally and figuratively, Croatia's road to Brussels leads through Slovenia, and so does that of numerous tourists on their way to Croatia." Referring to his government's decision to grant Slovenia an outlet to the open sea, Racan argued that "we had to make a compromise somewhere." PM

EMIGRATION REDUCES ALBANIA'S POPULATION

Officials of the Albanian Institute of Statistics (INSTAT) told a news conference in Tirana on 25 July that the population count in the 2001 census is 3.09 million, down from the 3.18 million people reported in the 1989 population survey. "The 3 percent [population] decrease is a result of the big flux of emigration in these years," INSTAT Director Milva Ekonomi said. PM

MAMMOTH ROMANIAN STEEL MILL SOLD

Romanian Privatization Authority Minister Ovidiu Mustescu signed in Bucharest on 25 July the contract by which the SIDEX steel mill in Galati will be sold to the British-Indian LNM Holdings company, Romanian media reported. According to the reports, LNM will acquire more than 90 percent of SIDEX shares, and the new company will most likely become a member of the ISPAT group, one of the largest steel producers in the world. Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase, who was present at the ceremony, said the value of the contract exceeds $500 million. LNM is to invest in environmental protection programs in the company and cannot initiate job cuts for five years. In return, the Romanian government is to cancel the $600 million in penalties it had assessed SIDEX for delayed payments. British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent a congratulatory letter to Nastase for selling SIDEX to a British company. ZsM

EC PRESIDENT, HUNGARIAN PREMIER SPEAK OUT ON STATUS LAW

In a letter addressed to Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase, European Commission President Romano Prodi on 25 July said the Status Law recently approved by the Hungarian parliament does not discriminate against citizens of neighboring countries, Mediafax reported. He added that the EC will continue to monitor the situation. Prodi sent the letter in reply to complaints made earlier by Nastase that the law had been approved without consulting Bucharest. In related news, Hungarian Premier Viktor Orban said on 25 July in an interview with Radio Budapest that the implementation of the Status Law is possible, but that it goes against the ways of thinking and practices in today's Europe, Mediafax reported. He added that NATO and EU candidate countries "should accept the values shared by countries [which are] already members of these structures." ZsM

MOLDOVA APPRECIATES RUSSIAN EFFORTS TO COMPLY WITH OSCE ISTANBUL SUMMIT RESOLUTIONS

A statement released by the Moldovan Foreign Affairs Ministry on 25 July said that the country appreciates Russia's efforts to comply with the November 1999 OSCE Istanbul summit resolutions, Flux reported. The Istanbul summit set the conditions for the withdrawal of Russian armed forces from the breakaway Transdniester region. The press release said that as part of the disarmament process, the Russian army has destroyed 10 of its tanks along with 10 armored vehicles. The statement also condemned the 19 July attack against the OSCE mission office in Tiraspol. ZsM

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES NATO IN LONDON

Petar Stoyanov met with British Defense Minister Jeff Hoon at the start of a three-day visit to Britain on 25 July, BTA reported. Stoyanov spoke with deputies from the three British parties before meeting with Hoon and briefing him on Sofia's plan to reform the Bulgarian army as well as the government's preparations in working toward NATO membership ahead of the 2002 Prague summit. Stoyanov said NATO membership is an "urgent priority" supported by all Bulgarian political parties and the majority of citizens. The president added that although the military will not have achieved full interoperability with NATO in time for the Prague summit, Bulgaria's membership in the alliance would be a source of stability for the Balkans. Stoyanov, who is being accompanied on the trip by Deputy Premier Nikolai Vassilev, also met with members of the board of directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The EBRD funds some 26 projects in Bulgaria worth 469 million euros (about $420 million). PB

BULGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER PROMISES TAX CUTS, NEW DEALS WITH IMF AND WORLD BANK

Milen Velchev said on 25 July in Sofia that he will cut taxes to attract investment from abroad and will seek new agreements with the IMF and the World Bank, AP reported, citing BTA. Velchev said that, in an effort to encourage foreign investment, the government will offer tax exemptions for firms that reinvest their profits locally. Velchev said an IMF agreement is necessary because "it is a stamp of approval for the government's economic policy." Velchev was to meet with IMF and World Bank representatives on 26 July. Bulgaria's agreements with the two organizations expire in September. Velchev said the government will privatize the State Savings Bank within a year and that the country must also issue Eurobonds. PB




IS PUTIN LOSING HIS 'SHYNESS?'


By Julie A. Corwin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has recently taken a number of actions that might prove politically risky, in an apparent shift from the Kremlin's strategy up to this point of trying to maintain Putin's high opinion poll ratings even if that means backing away from desired programs. On 9 July, Putin took a public stance against the death penalty, which polls show most Russians support. And then, on 11 July, he signed a bill allowing imports of spent nuclear fuel, another policy that polls suggest most Russians oppose.

Yet another departure from the past was Putin's first official press conference with Russian and foreign journalists at the Kremlin on 18 July. Putin took no new stands at that meeting, allowing himself only a small show of temper on Chechnya, but even that was consistent with past behavior. But in holding such a press conference at all, Putin put himself at risk that someone might ask a question for which he was not prepared.

If the Putin administration is changing its tactics or -- at the very least -- is willing to take more risks, the question that immediately arises is, why now? The results of a ROMIR-Gallup poll released on 12 July showed continued high ratings for Putin with a only a slight erosion over the course of the previous month. The percentage of respondents trusting him dropped to 69.3 percent from 71.4 percent, according to Interfax. (The poll was conducted of 2,000 Russian citizens at the end of June and was compared with the data from a similar poll at the end of May.)

But political analyst Sergei Kurginyan wrote in "Rossiya" on 18 July that, in contrast to the ROMIR-Gallup poll's findings, in certain parts of the country Putin's ratings are already sagging. Kurginyan claims that Putin's ratings overall have been falling by 3-5 percent per month since February, and in certain cities such as Irkutsk, Magadan, and Yekaterinburg, his support has fallen below 30 percent. If these results are accurate -- and polls in Russia are notoriously problematic -- then Putin may have changed course in the hopes of recovering his earlier standing.

Writing in "Vek" on 29 June, analyst Aleksei Bogaturov suggests an alternative explanation for Putin's apparent shift: According to Bogaturov, "as a politician, Putin has stopped being shy," and the period of "political reconnaissance is nearly over," with Putin now starting to pursue "a stable though cautious course of his own." Bogaturov concludes that Putin is changing his style of leadership: "Putin, who has previously been very careful about his reputation, today agrees to take unpopular measures, although he tries to do his best not to allow a mass of critical disappointment to form in the country." If "shyness" is indeed the factor, the Kremlin and government's recent run of success in the State Duma and Federation Council could embolden officials there to continue to take even more political risks in the future.

Of course, it is also possible that it is not that Putin or the presidential administration has changed so much as the setting in which they operate. With NTV tamed and the remaining independent media outlets more focused on their own survival than on what the Kremlin is up to, the presidential administration may feel freer to operate. After all, the Kremlin's foes in the last Duma election, Fatherland-All Russia, have been absorbed into a new union with the self-designated pro-presidential Unity party, and the voice of Fatherland leader and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov as an opposition leader has long been quieted.

Other regional leaders, like the independent media, have been more preoccupied with their own survival. They are losing their forum in the Federation Council, and this month they had to face another threat in the form of a bill that would have limited the number of terms the majority of regional leaders could seek to just two. One of the most prominent members of the Federation Council, Chairman Yegor Stroev, who had spoken against the bill allowing imports of spent nuclear fuel, registered this month for re-election in his oblast, as members of the pro-Kremlin Federation group announced that they will be seeking to curb Stroev's powers.


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