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Newsline - September 14, 2001




RUSSIANS OBSERVE MINUTE OF SILENCE, FLAGS AT HALF-MAST

At noon on 13 September, Russians observed a presidentially decreed minute of silence in memory of the victims of the terrorist attacks in the United States, Russian and Western agencies reported. Flags were flown at half-mast, and television programming was interrupted with pictures of the destruction in the U.S. Meanwhile, Russian officials and ordinary Russian citizens continued to express their shock and anger, Russian agencies reported. A poll conducted by VTsIOM and reported by "Izvestiya" on 13 September found that most Russians were in a state of shock after the bombings. Another poll conducted by ROMIR-Gallup International and reported by Interfax on 13 September found that 49.8 percent of Moscow residents believe that Islamic extremists were behind the attacks. PG

RUSSIA AND NATO JOINTLY CONDEMN TERRORIST ATTACKS

The Permanent Russia-NATO Council on 13 September adopted a resolution introduced by Moscow condemning the terrorist attacks in the U.S. and saying that both partners in that council are determined that those responsible will not go unpunished, RIA-Novosti reported. But Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov told Interfax the same day that the resolution does not mean that Moscow will take part in any retaliatory actions. VY

FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS DEEDS MUST REPLACE WORDS IN FIGHT AGAINST TERRORISM...

Following a meeting with his visiting French counterpart Hubert Vedrine on 13 September, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said that concrete deeds rather than words are required in the fight against terrorism, RIA-Novosti reported. The two agreed that such measures must be part of a new universal system or they will be unsuccessful, and that Paris and Moscow are ready to take part in such an arrangement. VY

...BUT DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS RUSSIA HAS NO PLANS TO DELIVER ANY MILITARY STRIKES

Speaking on his arrival in Yerevan on 13 September, Russian Defense Minster Sergei Ivanov said that Moscow is not planning to deliver any military strikes in response to the terrorist attacks in the U.S., ITAR-TASS reported. He used the occasion to express the hope that the world will now understand what Russia has been up against in Chechnya. PG

'FROM SHOCK TO HATRED'

The Russian media on 13 September continued to be dominated by articles about the terrorist attacks in the U.S. An article in "Vremya MN" said that the world is moving "from shock to hatred" as a result of these attacks. One in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" said that the 20th century "ended on Tuesday" when the attacks took place. An article in "Izvestiya" said that the attacks point to "a war of civilizations" and a transformation of the international environment. Another in "Rossiiskaya gazeta" suggested that the bombings are likely to mean "the end of the liberal model of democracy and of the economy that has enabled the vast majority of countries to be exploited by just a few." "Vremya MN" for its part suggested that the bombings point to "a new world disorder." PG

SVR DENIES IT GAVE CIA INFORMATION ON TERRORISTS

Tatyana Samolis, the press secretary of the director of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) denied on 13 September media reports that her agency gave the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency information about those who carried out the terrorist attacks on the U.S., polit.ru reported. She said that there has not been a meeting between officials of the two intelligence agencies and hence no information has been passed. The same day, Defense Minister Ivanov told Interfax that he has no reliable information on who was behind the terrorist attacks. But "Vremya novostei" reported on 13 September that sources in the Defense Ministry have already selected targets for the U.S. to strike. VY/PG

FSB CRITICIZES U.S. FOR INTELLIGENCE FAILURE

Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the Assistance Programs Directorate of the Federal Security Service (FSB), said in an interview published in "Parlamentskaya gazeta" on 13 September that the terrorist operation against the United States was "thoroughly planned and prepared" over a period of at least several months. He said that the U.S. intelligence community had no inkling that any operation of this magnitude could be launched against the United States. "Not that the American intelligence community is weak or incompetent," Zdanovich said. "But unfortunately, the Americans have placed too much emphasis on ELINT [electronic intelligence]. The latest developments show that they have not bothered to infiltrate terrorist organizations. That is why the CIA had no warning. There is an old axiom, you know: truly professional secret services prevent crimes, and all the others investigate them after the fact." PG

FORMER FSB DIRECTOR SAYS U.S. RETALIATION FOR ATTACKS COULD BE BAD FOR RUSSIA

Former FSB Director Nikolai Kovalev, who is now a Duma deputy, said on 13 September that an American retaliatory strike against Afghanistan would lead to refugee flows northward that could destabilize the countries on Russia's southern border, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. Kovalev also said he is surprised by "the complete lack of security precautions" in the U.S. that had made the attacks so easy for the terrorists. He noted that it is very easy to bring explosives on board planes with the help of workers from duty free shops. Meanwhile, former Russian Security Council secretary and Duma deputy Andrei Kokoshin said on Radio Mayak on 12 September that the American reaction might be both emotional and unpredictable. To avoid such problems in the future should Russia be attacked, Kokoshin said, the government should create a coordinator for counterterrorism at the level of "at least a deputy prime minister." VY/PG

PAPER SUGGESTS ATTACKS UNDERCUT U.S. ARGUMENTS FOR MISSILE DEFENSE

An article in "Novaya gazeta" on 13 September suggested that the terrorist attacks on the United States completely undercut President George W. Bush's arguments in favor of a missile defense system. Such a system could not have done anything to stop such attacks, which in any case are cheaper and easier to conduct that firing a missile that a missile defense system might defend against. VY

MOSCOW MARKS ANNIVERSARIES OF 1999 EXPLOSIONS

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 13 September led the commemoration on the second anniversary of the 8 and 13 September 1999 terrorist explosions in apartment buildings in the Russian capital that claimed 124 lives and which the Russian leadership adduced as its rationale for beginning the second Chechen war, RTR television reported. Russian prosecutors have charged five residents of Karachaevo-Cherkessia with involvement in these attacks. VY

LUZHKOV CALLS FOR MUSCOVITES TO BE 'VIGILANT'

Moscow Mayor Luzhkov on 13 September called on citizens of the Russian capital to increase their vigilance and to report anything suspicious to police authorities, Interfax-Moscow reported. Meanwhile, across Russia, officials announced heightened security measures, Russian agencies reported. In particular, special security measures have been introduced at nuclear power plants and at military facilities, ITAR- TASS reported. PG

U.S. CONSULATE IN ST. PETERSBURG CLOSED BRIEFLY AFTER FALSE BOMB THREAT

The U.S. Consulate in St. Petersburg was evacuated on 13 September after an anonymous caller said there was a bomb in the building, Russian and Western agencies reported. Police and security officials searched the building but found no evidence of a bomb. PG

U.S. TURNS DOWN RUSSIAN OFFER OF ASSISTANCE

Joe Albo, the director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, on 13 September sent a telegram to Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu thanking Moscow for its offer of assistance in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but saying that the U.S. does not need such assistance, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, other Russian officials, including the FSB, continued to offer help, "Izvestiya" reported the same day. PG

NEMTSOV CHANGES HIS POSITION ON CHECHEN TALKS

In an interview published in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 13 September, Boris Nemtsov, the leader of the Union of Rightist Forces (SPS), said that the terrorist attacks in New York have convinced him that talks with Chechen "terrorists" are impossible. But the same day, members of the SPS faction in the Duma sent to the Russian Constitutional Court a query concerning the constitutionality of Russia's actions in Chechnya, Interfax reported. The deputies insisted that Yeltsin's original decree being secret does not meet constitutional standards required for authorizing such a campaign. PG

CHECHEN PRESIDENT OFFERS CONDOLENCES

The Chechenpress website on 13 September carried the text of a letter from Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov expressing his condolences to the American people and government. He said that Chechens are "sincerely and deeply mourning together" with Americans because "America is the only country in the world today which has a tradition of protecting oppressed peoples from enslavement." Maskhadov said that Chechnya is "deeply indignant" at Russian efforts to link Chechnya to the terrorists or to try to exploit the tragedy in order to "justify their own policy of state terror in Chechnya." Maskhadov's comments coincided with a suggestion by Russian Defense Minister Ivanov that such links exist, and with predictions by a variety of Russian commentators and officials that Washington will now show greater understanding of the threat Russian forces face in Chechnya, Russian and Western agencies reported. PG

RUSSIA SEEN AT RISK OF TERRORIST ATTACKS

"Komsomolskaya pravda" on 13 September featured an article suggesting that "just about anyone could dive-bomb the Kremlin," especially because following the collapse of the Soviet Union Russia lacks radar coverage over a large part of its long borders. If such an attack took place, the paper said, "no one could prevent it." The same day, "Moskovskii komsomolets" carried an interview with an unnamed FSB officer who said that terrorists seeking to attack Russia are more likely to poison water supplies than to attempt to repeat what other terrorists did in the U.S. PG

RUSSIAN JOURNALIST COVERING WORLD TRADE CENTER SUFFERS HEART ATTACK

ITAR-TASS correspondent Yurii Kirilchenko was "among the first" journalists on the scene of the terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center in New York, his agency said. He helped several Americans who had been hurt but later suffered a heart attack himself from stress. American surgeons performed a seven-hour open heart surgery and thus saved his life, ITAR-TASS said with gratitude. PG

KASYANOV SAYS RESERVES SUFFICIENT TO KEEP MARKET STABLE

Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov on 13 September said that the government and the Central Bank have "sufficient reserves" to stabilize domestic currency markets unsettled after the terrorist attacks on the United States, Interfax reported. The dollar rose slightly in heavy trading both in the banks and on the street, and Russian banks experienced some shortages in their dollar holdings as a result. In some regions of Siberia, banks stopped trading dollars. PG

GREF SAYS TERRORIST ACTS WILL NOT AFFECT RUSSIAN ECONOMY

Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref on 13 September said that the terrorist attacks in the U.S. will not have any impact on the Russian economy, Interfax reported. He also said that there will be little or no inflation in Russia in September. Gref added that Russia will not need to restructure any of its foreign debt. But an article in "Vedomosti" the same day suggested that the Duma may have to come up with new funds for the country's security agencies to cope with the terrorist threat. Aleksandr Shokhin, the chairman of the Duma's Banking Committee, told Interfax-AFI on 13 September that the terrorist crisis might lead to higher oil prices and more revenue for the Russian government. PG

PUTIN BRIEFED ON PRISON SYSTEM, 'KURSK' PROGRESS

Justice Minister Yurii Chaika on 13 September briefed President Putin on how his ministry is implementing court decisions on prisons and how it is improving its responsiveness to citizen inquiries, Interfax reported. The same day, Deputy Prime Minster Ilya Klebanov and navy Commander in Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroedov briefed Putin on the course of operations to raise the sunken "Kursk" submarine. PG

KASYANOV SAYS RUSSIA NEEDS NEW HOUSING CODE

Prime Minister Kasyanov on 13 September said that Russia needs a new Housing Code because the existing one adopted in 1984 is no longer adequate, Russian agencies reported. He urged the Duma to adopt the version just approved by the cabinet. PG

GOVERNMENT, CENTRAL BANK AGREE ON BANK REFORM

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksei Kudrin said on 13 September that the Russian government and the Central Bank have agreed in principle on a draft program of bank reforms, Interfax reported. The accord will be considered by the cabinet in the next few days and then submitted to the Duma, he said. PG

NEW PARTY SEEKS TO DEFEND RIGHTS OF ALL RUSSIAN CITIZENS

A constituent congress of the All-Russian geopolitical party, "The Party of the Peoples of Russia," took place on 13 September near Moscow, and party leaders said that they see as their task to be organizing "the defense of the rights and freedoms of man and citizens independent from nationality and religion," Interfax reported. Nadezhda Cherbukhkova, the chairwoman of the organizing committee and the head of the Nationality Affairs Commission of the Central federal district, said that this party will help consolidate society on the basis of strengthening the state and "the principles of all-Russian patriotism and citizenship." PG

RUSHAILO WANTS TO FORM COUNCIL OF CIS SECURITY ADVISERS

Vladimir Rushailo, Russian Security Council secretary, said on 13 September that the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States should set up a committee of security advisers in order to coordinate the work of security bodies more effectively, Interfax reported. PG

MOSCOW TO GIVE EUROPEANS DATA ON CHECHEN TIES TO BIN LADEN, CASES AGAINST RUSSIAN MILITARY

Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said on 13 September that his office will hand to a delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe materials proving links between Chechens and international terrorist Osama bin Laden, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, Kremlin adviser Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the same day that he has given Alvaro Gil- Robles, the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, a list of criminal cases that have been opened against Russian military personnel in Chechnya, Interfax reported. PG

RUSSIA-U.S. STRATEGIC CONSULTATIONS TO RESUME ON 17 SEPTEMBER

Russian and American diplomats announced on 13 September that bilateral strategic consultations will resume in Moscow on 17 September, Russian agencies reported. The talks were suspended after the terrorist attacks on the U.S. PG

RUSSIA, UKRAINE DISCUSS TRANSPORTATION TIES

Russian Transportation Minister Sergei Frank and his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Valeriy Pustovoytenko on 13 September discussed expanding cooperation between the two countries in transportation, Interfax reported. They also reached agreement on simplifying border procedures for ground transport. Meanwhile, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin said the same day in Kyiv that Russia will not increase oil prices for Ukraine as a result of any price rises that take place after the terrorist attacks on the U.S., ITAR-TASS reported. PG

ONE RUSSIAN IN THREE SATISFIED WITH TIES TO ARMENIA

According to a poll conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation and reported by Interfax on 13 September in advance of President Putin's visit to Yerevan, 35 percent of Russians say they are satisfied by the current level of relations between Russia and Armenia. Twenty-three percent said they are not satisfied with them. PG

HEARINGS ON KURILES CALL FOR MOSCOW TO RECOGNIZE 1951 UN-JAPAN TREATY

A two-day parliamentary hearing at Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk concluded on 13 September with an appeal to the Russian government to recognize the 1951 UN peace accord with Japan as the basis for future negotiations on the status of the disputed Kurile Islands, Interfax-Eurasia reported. That accord transferred control of the four islands from Japan to the Soviet Union, but Moscow refused to sign it at the time, in part because it did not provide for massive reparations. PG

SUPREME COURT OVERRULES DEFENSE MINISTRY ON SECRECY

The Russian Supreme Court on 13 September struck down sections of a 1996 Defense Ministry secrecy decree that have been used to prosecute researchers for spying, AP reported. The court did not provide any details of its decision, and the ministry refused to make any comment. PG

NEWSPAPERS LIKELY TO COST 40-45 PERCENT MORE IN 2002

Deputy Media Minister Vladimir Grigorev said on 13 September that as a result of the end of subsidies to the press, Russian newspapers are likely to cost 40-45 percent more after 1 January 2002, Interfax reported. In comments published in "Kommersant-Daily" the same day, Grigorev said that the scale of piracy of compact discs and cassettes in Russia is so large that it almost defies a legal solution. In order to try to cope with the problem, Grigorev said, his ministry is drafting new legislation on licensing for producers of such systems. PG/VY

YELTSIN SAID TO HAVE FEARED ARREST AFTER BELOVEZHSKAYA ACCORDS

Andrei Grachev, former press secretary to former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, writes in his new book on Gorbachev that Russian President Boris Yeltsin knew that his agreement in December 1991 disbanding the Soviet Union was a crime and expected to be arrested by the KGB, according to an article in "Trud" on 13 September. When Gorbachev invited Yeltsin for a discussion of what he, together with the leaders of Belarus and Ukraine, had done, Grachev wrote, Yeltsin asked whether there would be an attempt to detain him. Grachev also suggests that the three participants in the Belovezhskaya agreement selected that location in order to be in a position to flee to Poland if the Soviet authorities pursued them. VY

MUSCOVITES WANT BUTYRKA TO BECOME A MUSEUM

A group of Duma deputies proposed on 13 September that the Butyrka prison be closed and transformed into a museum, Interfax-Moscow reported. The group, acting at the initiative of the Free Moscow Movement, has begun a campaign to collect signatures from people living near the prison. Meanwhile, the three prisoners who escaped from Butyrka on 5 September remain at large, and the police denied media reports that they have already established a large reward for any information leading to the capture of the prisoners, Russian agencies reported. PG

CORRECTION:

"RFE/RL Newsline" on 13 September incorrectly identified the name of the agency to which President Putin named a new group of members. It was the Human Rights Commission and not the Pension Commission. PG

FAR EAST MAYOR SEES ATTACKS ON U.S. AS PAYBACK FOR HIROSHIMA...

The mayor of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatka Yurii Golenishchev declared on a local radio station that the 11 September terrorist acts in the U.S. were what Americans got "for Yugoslavia, Palestine, Mexico, and everything. Yes, and perhaps even for Hiroshima!" "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 13 September. He continued, "They say that this is international terrorism...But people become beasts after they have been treated that way. It is necessary to respect people, to respect governments, and then everything will be in its place." The daily described Golenishchev as a confirmed communist. His fellow traveler, Kamchatka Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev, was less harsh but "could not say anything good about the U.S." Thousands of people have been killed which is a tragedy for the whole world, he noted, added that this occurred "as a direct consequence of the policies of the American government for many years." JAC

...AS URALS OFFICIALS CALL FOR TIGHTER IMMIGRATION POLICY

At a meeting on 12 September with leaders of law enforcement structures and members of the Sverdlovsk Oblast's government in Yekaterinburg, law enforcement officials expressed their concern about the growth of illegal immigrants from countries in Central Asia, primarily from Tajikistan, the website polit.ru reported. According to police data, the number of persons illegally arriving in Sverdlovsk has reached 50,000-70,000 a year. To address the problem, official have called for setting up a telephone hot line and drafting legislation that will make migration policy more strict. JAC

CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION TO SEEK GREATER CONTROL OVER REGIONAL COMMISSIONS

At a meeting of regional election officials from around the country in Barnaul on 13 September, Central Election Committee (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov announced that the commission intends to submit to the State Duma a package of legislation that will improve the election system in the country, "Izvestiya" reported. According to the daily, TsIK want to gain the right to nominate two candidates to the staff of regional election commissions as well as the chairmen of the commissions. (Currently, regional election commissions are selected by the local legislature and governor.) And if members of the regional commission reject all of the TsIK's nominees, then TsIK would have the right to name the chairman of the commission independently. According to ITAR-TASS, Veshnyakov promised that the legislation will also stimulate the development of political parties in Russia, which he said currently tend to work only around election times. JAC

LEBED STARTS REELECTION CAMPAIGN EARLY

At a meeting in Norilsk, Krasnoyarsk Krai Governor Aleksandr Lebed announced on 13 September that he will seek reelection in elections planned for May 2003, Russian agencies reported. Lebed explained that around 50 large-scale social programs are currently underway, which will resolve key problems in the krai. He also said he is afraid that just one term will not be enough for him to see these programs through. According to ITAR-TASS, this is the first time that Lebed has declared his intentions to seek a second term. JAC

CHUBAIS CRONY TAPPED FOR FEDERATION COUNCIL

Legislators in Saratov Oblast selected on 12 September their representative to the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported the next day. Valentin Zavadnikov, deputy head of the administration for Unified Energy Systems (UES), was selected. According to the daily, UES head Anatolii Chubais entrusted Zavadnikov with overseeing and developing the company's concept for reforming the country's energy system. Despite his selection, Zavadnikov said that he will not leave UES completely and will remain on the board of directors of the company as well as on the boards of Rostovenergo, Tyumenenergo, and the Northeastern Interregional Energy Commission. JAC

CHECHEN PROSECUTOR DEMANDS EXTRADITION OF MILITANTS DETAINED IN GEORGIA

Vsevolod Chernov told journalists on 13 September that the Georgian authorities' refusal to hand over 13 fighters detained three months ago trying to enter Georgia illegally from the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 June 2001) is impeding the investigation of a terrorist bombing in Stavropol Krai in which the men are implicated, Caucasus Press reported. The Georgian Prosecutor- General's Office is reportedly still trying to establish the identities of the men. LF

PARLIAMENT DEPUTY MURDERED IN KARACHAEVO-CHERKESSIA

Aznaur Suyunchev died in hospital late on 11 September of multiple gunshot wounds, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 September. Suyunchev and a second man, who also died, were found unconscious in their car on the Nevynnomysk-Dombai highway. LF

BASHKIR OPPOSITION FIGURE ADVOCATES ESTABLISHING POPULAR FRONT

Russia has never allowed the non-Russian peoples freedom to develop, and so they must create the necessary conditions to do so either individually or in cooperation with each other, Ekhter Bosqynov, who heads the Ural Bashkir People's Center, told RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service on 12 September. Acknowledging that "Tatarstan has always been a model for us," Bosqynov advocated creating a popular front in Bashkortostan comparable to that in Tatarstan and which would set as its priority the defense of the right to self-determination of the Muslim peoples of the Russian Federation. Bosqynov also accused Moscow of planning to abolish the republican status of both Tatarstan and Bashkortostan and lower their status to that of an oblast or krai. He called on the leaders of both republics to cooperate in opposing those plans. LF

ILLITERACY AMONG DRAFTEES FROM TATARSTAN GIVES GROUNDS FOR CONCERN

Tatarstan's deputy defense minister, Zilya Valeeva, expressed concern on 12 September that an unspecified number of draftees from Tatarstan are totally illiterate because they have never attended school, RFE/RL's Tatar-Bashkir Service reported on 13 September. LF




ARMENIA CALLS FOR COORDINATED RESPONSE TO GLOBAL TERRORISM...

Speaking in his capacity as rotating chairman of the CIS Collective Security Treaty, Armenian President Robert Kocharian proposed that the six signatories to that accord (Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan) should offer to provide collective support for coordinated international measures to clamp down on the "rapidly growing danger of international terrorism," RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. The six signatories to the treaty termed the struggle against "international terrorism and extremism" as one of their main priorities at a session in Yerevan in May 2001. LF

...WHILE KAZAKHSTAN ADVOCATES 'NEW APPROACHES'...

National Security Committee Chairman Marat Tazhin told Interfax on 13 September that the terrorist attacks in the U.S. make it necessary to rethink how terrorism arises and spreads. He said his agency engages in a regular exchange of information with the intelligence services of unspecified other countries on terrorist plans to destabilize the situation in Central Asia. LF

...AND UZBEKISTAN AGAIN PROPOSES INTERNATIONAL ANTITERRORIST CENTER

Uzbekistan's foreign minister, Abdulaziz Komilov, recalled in Tashkent on 13 September that Uzbekistan has already twice raised the question of establishing an international antiterrorism center under the auspices of the UN, Interfax reported. LF

SCO CONDEMNS TERRORISM, PLEDGES READINESS TO COMBAT IT...

In a statement released in Almaty on 14 September at the end of their two-day meeting, the prime ministers of the six member states of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) -- Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan -- condemned the 11 September terrorist attacks in the U.S. as "a barbaric act defying the fundamentals of human civilization," and pledged to cooperate closely with all states and international bodies to combat the "serious threat to humanity" that terrorism represents, Reuters reported. LF

...SEEKS TO ACCELERATE ECONOMIC INTEGRATION

Also on 14 September, the six premiers signed a memorandum intended to serve as the basis for "full-blooded" economic interaction, dpa and ITAR-TASS reported. Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji told journalists that the economies of the six states are "mutually complementary." He added that priority will be given to jointly developing the oil and gas sector, transport infrastructure, and "creating flows of commodities, services, and investments" between SCO member states. LF

ARMENIAN OFFICIAL RULES OUT INCREASE IN PENSIONS THIS YEAR

It will not be possible for the Armenian government to raise pensions before the end of this year, Social Welfare Ministry official Artem Asatrian told Noyan Tapan on 13 September. Asatrian said the current minimum pension is 2,860 drams ($5.20) and the average monthly pension is 4,600 drams as compared with 2,200 and 4,404 drams respectively in April 1999. Armenian Revolutionary Federation -- Dashnaktsutiun parliament faction head Aghvan Vartanian argued earlier this month that it is quite feasible to raise pensions immediately by between 30-50 percent. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION BEGINS CAMPAIGN TO FORCE SPEAKER'S RESIGNATION

The parliamentary opposition has taken speaker Zurab Zhvania up on his pledge to resign from that post if 100 deputies append their signatures to a demand that he do so, Parliament deputy speaker Vakhtang Rcheulishvili told Caucasus Press on 13 September (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," Vol. 4, No. 31, 10 September 2001). Rcheulishvili did not, however, reveal how many deputies have already signed that demand. Meanwhile, at a two-hour meeting on 13 September with visiting Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Chairman Lord Russell- Johnston, opposition legislators argued that responsibility for endemic corruption in Georgia lies with the ruling Union of Citizens of Georgia, Caucasus Press reported. "Industry Will Save Georgia" faction head Gogi Topadze said corruption is the reason why the huge amounts of aid the West has given Georgia have produced no noticeable improvements in the situation there. LF

KAZAKH PRESIDENT, CHINESE PREMIER MEET

Nursultan Nazarbaev met with visiting Chinese Premier Zhu on the sidelines of the 13-14 September SCO summit in Almaty, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 September, quoting Kazakhstan's Foreign Minister Yerlan Idrisov. Just as Prime Minister Toqaev had done when meeting with Zhu two days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001), Idrisov positively assessed the current trend of Kazakh-Chinese relations, ITAR-TASS reported. He noted the huge unused potential for cooperation in the oil and gas sector and the power industry. Interfax reported on 10 September that Zhu and Nazarbaev would discuss the project to build an oil export pipeline from western Kazakhstan to China, but it is not clear whether they did so. An agreement in principle to build such a pipeline was signed four years ago, and Nazarbaev reaffirmed his commitment to implementing that project when visiting Beijing in November 1999. However, a Chinese oil company official said in March of this year that construction is unlikely to start in the foreseeable future (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 1999 and 30 March 2001). In recent months Kazakh officials have repeatedly expressed support for the alternative Aqtau-Baku- Ceyhan export route. LF

KYRGYZSTAN RELOCATES BORDER GUARDS DIRECTORATE TO SOUTH

Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev has issued a decree ordering the relocation of the headquarters of the Defense Ministry's Border Guard Directorate to the town of Osh in southern Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported on 13 September. The transfer is to be completed by 1 October 2002. LF

INTERNATIONAL MEETING IN TAJIKISTAN DISCUSSES AFGHAN SITUATION

Meeting behind closed doors in an emergency session in Dushanbe on 13 September, officials from Russia, India, Iran, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan discussed the likely impact on future developments in Afghanistan of the 9 September bid to assassinate Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, Reuters and Russian agencies reported. They also discussed possible military and technical assistance to the embattled Northern Alliance. General Muhammad Fahimkhan, who was selected the same day to replace Massoud as military commander of the Northern Alliance, was introduced to participants. Fahimkhan is 44 years old and a graduate of the theological faculty of Kabul University; he served under Massoud fighting against Soviet troops during the 1980s, Interfax reported. LF

TAJIK PRESIDENT, INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER MEET

Imomali Rakhmonov met in Dushanbe on 13 September with visiting Indian Foreign Minister Omar Abdullah to discuss implementation of previous agreements on cooperation, measures to combat terrorism and drug trafficking, and regional security, including the situation in Afghanistan, Russian agencies reported. LF

TURKMEN PRESIDENT MAKES DEBUT AS NOVELIST

A two-volume novel by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov has been published in Ashgabat, Interfax reported on 12 September. The work is based on diaries Niyazov kept during the late 1980s after he was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Turkmenistan. LF




MINSK CALLS OSCE ELECTION REPORT 'CONSTRUCTIVE'

Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvastou on 13 September expressed his confidence that Europe will soon "reconsider its approaches toward Belarus," Belarusian Television reported. Touching upon the 10 September preliminary report by the OSCE's monitoring mission on the presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 September 2001), Khvastou said Minsk views it as a " constructive document, which is opening opportunities for the two sides to continue dialogue." Khvastou said the government especially appreciates the report's conclusion that the policy of isolating Belarus is counterproductive, as well as its recognition of positive shifts in Belarus's socioeconomic life. The OSCE report criticized Belarus's ballot as having "fundamental flaws" and failing to meet OSCE standards for democratic elections. JM

LUKASHENKA REPORTEDLY CANCELS CONDOLENCE VISIT TO U.S. EMBASSY

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 13 September canceled a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk in which he was to offer his condolences in connection with the terrorist attacks on the U.S., Belapan reported on 13 September. Quoting an anonymous source from the embassy, the agency said Lukashenka's protocol officials informed the embassy at short notice that the Belarusian president would be accompanied by a television crew and photographers during his visit. The embassy reportedly responded that no filming is allowed on the embassy's premises, and Lukashenka's motorcade turned around not far from the embassy and withdrew. Lukashenka subsequently sent Foreign Minister Khvastou to offer condolences. JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER ISSUE CONFISCATED AGAIN

Prosecutors in Hrodna, western Belarus, on 12 September seized a print run of 8,132 copies of the local independent newspaper "Pahonya," Belapan reported. "Pahonya" Editor in Chief Mikalay Markevich told the agency that this latest seizure may be linked to the confiscation of a "Pahonya" issue earlier this month, when regional investigators launched a probe into the publication of an article deemed defamatory to President Lukashenka. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES ELECTION LAW...

The parliament on 13 September voted by 230 to 113, with 6 abstentions, to adopt a bill on parliamentary elections, Interfax reported. The bill introduces a number of amendments to the current election law but leaves unchanged the hitherto controversial provision that 225 deputies are elected in one-seat constituencies and another 225 under a proportional party-list system. Kuchma has repeatedly vetoed the parliament's previous attempts at changing this provision in favor of increasing the number of deputies elected under a party-list system. JM

...AND RESOLUTION ON LIVE RADIO COVERAGE OF SESSION

The parliament passed a resolution ordering the National Radio Company to provide live coverage of the current parliamentary session four days a week. The resolution also obliges the National Television Company to air a daily 30-minute information program about parliamentary session proceedings on the UT-1 and UT-2 state-run channels. The document requests that President Leonid Kuchma sack National Television Company head Vadym Dolhanov for his failure to implement last year's parliamentary resolution on the television coverage of the preceding parliamentary session. JM

ESTONIAN UNIVERSITIES DECLARE BOYCOTT OF GOVERNMENT

Representatives of Estonia's public universities, the Estonian Science Foundation, and the Council of Scientific Competence issued a joint appeal on 13 September, BNS reported. It proposed "recalling all scientists and university academic staff from all commissions, councils, working groups, and volunteer bodies set up by the government until the start of substantial and constructive dialogue between the government and universities/academic institutions." The signatories of the appeal later met with Prime Minister Mart Laar and declared their diminishing trust in the Education Ministry and dissatisfaction with the government's educational policy. They complained that the state allocations per university student declined from 13,500 kroons ($782.60) in 1999 to 12,600 kroons in 2000 and 2001, and supported raising the support to a level of 20,000-22,000 kroons per student. They also noted that although the Education Ministry promised to increase support for the universities by 212 million kroons for next year, these additional funds were not included in the preparatory draft of the budget. SG

LATVIA'S DRAFT BUDGET FOR 2002 SUBMITTED TO GOVERNMENT

The Finance Ministry on 13 September submitted to the government the draft budget for 2002 that foresees a budget deficit of 114.4 million lats ($183.9 million) or 1.73 percent of GDP, LETA reported. The ministry expects revenues to be 1.52 billion lats and expenditures, 1.63 billion lats. The government had initially planned a much larger budget deficit (2.76 percent of GDP), but reduced it after consultations with the International Monetary Fund, with which it had signed a memorandum promising to keep the budget deficit at 1 percent of GDP. The draft budget for 2002 estimates that GDP will grow by 6 percent in comparative prices and that the rate of inflation will be 3 percent. The major increases in the budget is for government priorities: integration into NATO and the EU, and for education and health. SG

LITHUANIAN PROSECUTORS LAMENT DEATH OF ALLEGED WAR CRIMINAL

The Prosecutor- General's Office issued a statement on 13 September expressing regret that suspected Nazi war criminal Antanas Gecevicius (Gecas) died the previous day in an Edinburgh hospital before his case could be judged in a trial, ELTA reported. Lithuania requested the extradition of Gecas in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2001) accusing him of participating in the genocide of Jews and other minorities in Lithuania and Belarus during World War II when he commanded a squad in the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion. The office reiterated its resolve to do intensive work in all other cases dealing with the prosecution of persons implicated in crimes against humanity and bringing them to court. SG

POLISH TOP OFFICIALS SIGN BOOK OF CONDOLENCES AT U.S. EMBASSY

"America, we are with you," President Aleksander Kwasniewski wrote in a special book of condolences the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw made available to the public on 13 September. Those signing the book also included Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek, Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, Senate speaker Alicja Grzeskowiak, Sejm deputy speaker Marek Borowski, and Warsaw Mayor Pawel Piskorski. The same day, Polish radio stations honored the memory of the thousands of victims of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. with 10 seconds of silence on the airwaves. JM

POLISH ACADEMIC SAYS ATTACKS ON U.S. ARE CONSEQUENCE OF GLOBALIZATION

Speaking to a conference "Fears and Hopes of Globalization" in Opole on 13 September, Professor Adam Chmielewski from Warsaw University said the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. came as a consequence of that country's global policy, Polish Radio reported. "[The U.S.] has been the prime mover of global policy and the greatest beneficiary of it. But this has meant that a great many regions of the world suffer as a result of exclusion from the global system or because they function in the global system exclusively as areas of exploitation. They get into a kind of state of deep awareness that they are helpless. And in their helplessness, in desperation connected with this, in the inability to fight the might of the United States, they go as far as self-destruction which, in this case, has also led to an act of genocide," Chmielewski said. JM

NEW CZECH POLITICAL PARTY LAUNCHED

A new political party emerged on 13 September with a formal request to register Cesta zmeny (Path of Change) by a group led by businessman Jiri Lobkowicz and media analyst Bork Severa, CTK and local media reported. A statement issued in connection with the registration process said Path of Change is "a party of a new center" and "oriented neither right nor left, but forward." But early reports indicate that a rift may already have divided the initial group of organizers, as former student activist Monika Pajerova said she was unaware that an official request had been lodged. Pajerova had told CTK on 12 September that a constituent conference to elect a chairman would be held on 15 September, when most observers expected the fledgling party to present itself to the public. Its backers hope to tap into what they believe is considerable disenchantment among voters frustrated by a calcified political landscape and close cooperation between the two largest parliamentary parties despite considerable ideological differences. Those two parties, the Civic Democratic Party (ODS) and the ruling Social Democrats, have had a virtual stranglehold on power since entering into an opposition agreement in 1998. The next national elections are slated for June 2002. AH

FOUR OF FIVE CZECHS SUPPORT ASSISTANCE IN EVENT OF RETALIATORY STRIKES AGAINST TERRORISTS

A lightning poll conducted on 12 September suggested that some 81 percent of Czechs would favor their country's active participation, if requested, for possible retaliatory strikes against the organizers of the 11 September terrorist attack on the U.S., CTK reported. Just 12 percent said they would oppose such support. The poll, whose sampling size was not disclosed, was conducted just ahead of the North Atlantic Council's decision to allow NATO's Article 5 on joint defense to be invoked. AH

SLOVAKIA READY TO BACK U.S. RETALIATORY ACTION AGAINST TERRORISTS

Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on 13 September said Slovakia is ready to "assist" the U.S. in possible retaliatory action for the 11 September terrorist attacks, CTK reported. "Slovakia will be able to react promptly and immediately... We want to cooperate. We will definitely neither hesitate nor speculate," Kukan said. Kukan specified that Slovakia's participation in NATO's or the U.S.'s possible military action could comprise logistics support, the opening of the Slovak airspace, or another form of backing. Slovakia hopes to be invited to join NATO at the alliance's summit in Prague in November 2002. JM

MOVEMENT FOR A DEMOCRATIC SLOVAKIA TOPS POLL

The MKV polling agency found in a poll conducted between 4-11 September that the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia would have won parliamentary elections with 28.5 percent of the vote if they had been held at that time, TASR reported on 13 September. Support for other parties was distributed as follows: the Smer party got 16.3 percent; the Hungarian Coalition Party 9.9 percent; the Alliance of a New Citizen 8.3 percent; the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union 8.1 percent; the Slovak National Party 7.4 percent; the Party of the Democratic Left 6.2 percent; and the Christian Democratic Movement 5.8 percent. The remaining parties obtained support below the 5 percent threshold required to qualify for parliamentary representation. JM

HUNGARIAN, SLOVAK REPRESENTATIVES OPTIMISTIC OVER GABCIKOVO TALKS

Officials in charge of Hungarian and Slovak activities on the Danube River expressed cautious optimism following 13 September talks aimed at determining the commercial and environmental impact of the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros hydroelectric power plant, Hungarian media reported. Slovakia's Danube commissioner, Dominik Kocinger, added that legal and technical teams from both countries will launch meetings in early October aimed at agreeing on recommendations. The two sides have a longstanding dispute over the effect of the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2001). AH




SOLIDARITY WITH U.S. IN FORMER YUGOSLAVIA

A day of mourning was marked on 14 September in Croatia, Bosnia, and Montenegro, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 September 2001). At 12:00 p.m. local time, three minutes of silence were officially observed. Bosnian Prime Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said that the central government and the authorities in both entities support the U.S. in the fight against terrorism, "Oslobodjenje" reported. He added that he expects no changes in U.S. policy in Bosnia. On 13 September, the Yugoslav government met in a special session to condemn the terrorist attacks and offer support in catching those responsible. "Vesti" published statements from numerous Serbian politicians against the attacks. Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic said that terrorism affects everyone and will force changes in old security concepts as the world enters a new century. Vuk Draskovic of the Serbian Renewal Movement argued that "what happened in the U.S. should act as a signal to the entire world to settle accounts with terrorism." PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN GUERRILLA LEADER SENDS CONDOLENCES TO U.S.

Ali Ahmeti, the political leader of the ethnic Albanian guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (UCK), sent a telegram to President George W. Bush and the American people to extend his condolences, Makfax reported on 13 September. He said: "With deep pain and much concern we [share] the hard tragedy caused by the enemies of the American people and state. This blow also hit the entire Albanian people in Macedonia... We condemn the acts of terrorism and deeply sympathize with you." PM

ROBERTSON URGES MACEDONIAN LEGISLATORS NOT TO DELAY

NATO Secretary-General George Robertson said in Skopje on 14 September: "I've come to see that the peace process is on track and to give encouragement to the politicians in Macedonia to keep on with that process...to ensure peace and security for this country and the wider region. Two-thirds of the weapons have been collected and destroyed [in Operation Essential Harvest] so [NATO] has done its job with efficiency... I would be very concerned if there were going to be delays in [the political] process," Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001). Robertson added that "this has been a black week for the world. The events in New York and Washington have cast a shadow not just across America but across the Balkans as well." An unnamed "high-ranking Macedonian security official" told that news agency that Robertson "is going to pressure the government to get moving with the parliamentary procedure on changing the constitution and pushing through an amnesty" for the UCK fighters. PM

MACEDONIAN TIMETABLE ON TRACK?

Operation Essential Harvest is slated to end on 26 September, and two days later the parliament is scheduled to have approved constitutional amendments that will raise the status of the large Albanian minority, Reuters reported from Skopje on 13 September. NATO spokesman Mark Laity said that the disarmament process continues to be disrupted by Macedonian paramilitaries who "do not appear to be answerable to local [police or army] commanders." Macedonian President Boris Trajkovski said that he has no knowledge of such illegal activities and will stop them if the accusations are proven. Parliament speaker Stojan Andov told AP that the second phase of the parliamentary debate will end on 20 September and that discussions on the amendments will have to wait until after the disarmament process is over and Macedonian forces have entered areas now controlled by the UCK. He added that unnamed Western officials have threatened to "impose a financial blockade on Macedonia" if parliament were to hold up the overall peace process. PM

MACEDONIAN ALBANIAN PARTIES OPPOSE REFERENDUM

On 13 September, the Macedonian parliament indefinitely postponed debate on a proposed referendum on the constitutional changes, Reuters reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 September 2001). Western officials and ethnic Albanian political leaders had warned that such a discussion threatened to derail the peace process. Arben Xhaferi, who heads the Democratic Party of the Albanians (PDSH), said that the Albanians might hold a referendum of their own to decide what constitutional changes they want if the Macedonians hold a referendum on the proposed amendments, AP reported. Observers note that even though Macedonia's main political leaders have all signed the political settlement, many politicians' behavior is heavily influenced by the fact that elections are scheduled for January 2002 (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 17 and 21 August 2001). PM

MACEDONIAN DEFENSE MINISTER: FORCES WILL RETURN TO FEBRUARY POSITIONS

After a meeting of the National Security Council, Defense Minister Vlado Buckovski said in Skopje on 12 September that security forces will return to their positions of 5 February -- at the beginning of the Albanian uprising -- once the disarmament process is completed, Deutsche Welle's "Monitor" reported. He stressed that it would amount to accepting an ethnic partition of the country were the forces to return only to their front-line positions of 5 July. He added that a plan is being drawn up for the return of security forces to guerrilla-held areas, and that the process of the forces' return will last until the end of November. Buckovski said that an armed international presence would be acceptable providing it has a UN mandate and limits its tasks to securing the borders with Kosova, Serbia, and Albania. PM

SLOVENIA OFFERS TO MEDIATE IN SERBIAN-MONTENEGRIN DISPUTE

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel offered his government's good offices to help resolve the dispute between Belgrade and Podgorica over the future of their relations, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported from Podgorica on 13 September. Also in the Montenegrin capital, Prime Minister Filip Vujanovic called on Djindjic to sent representatives to discuss the future of relations with the Montenegrin government. Djindjic has previously said that he will not negotiate with Montenegro without Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica. In Belgrade, leaders of the Serbian and Montenegrin parties in the governing Yugoslav coalition failed to resolve their differences but said they will try again in yet another meeting. PM

REGISTRATION OF KOSOVA SERBS PROCEEDING APACE

Officials of the OSCE, which is supervising the 17 November general elections in Kosova, said in Prishtina on 13 September that 130,000 Serbs have registered to vote, RFE/RL's South Slavic Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 September 2001). About half of those registered live within the province, while the other half are living in Serbia or Montenegro. PM

CROATIAN TENNIS STAR DRAFTED INTO ARMY

On his 30th birthday on 13 September, tennis star Goran Ivanisevic received his call-up papers for the military, AP reported from Zagreb. After passing his physical, Ivanisevic said that he has no preference as to which branch of the service he would like to join. He noted that he has poor vision, however, and that he'd "totally miss something the size of a house" if sent to the artillery. As a professional sportsman he is exempt from the normal one year of military service, but he will have to report to the military authorities whenever he is in Croatia and undergo six months of basic training starting 27 November. PM

PNTCD RIFT CREATES MORE WAVES

Romanian Premier Adrian Nastase denied on 13 September having known that National Peasant Party Christian Democratic (PNTCD) leader Victor Ciorbea has been forbidden to leave the country, Mediafax reported. Nastase was reacting to a letter sent by PACE Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Hans-Gert Poettering protesting restrictions that were allegedly imposed on Ciorbea's family preventing them from leaving Romania. Poettering said this reminds him of restrictive measures taken 10 years ago, "measures contrary to the attitude expected from an [EU] candidate country." Nastase canceled a meeting with Ciorbea scheduled for 14 September in order to ensure the cabinet's impartiality until a final verdict is handed down in the legal dispute between the two factions. The PNTCD is torn by an internal rift between two factions contesting leadership. Nastase previously deplored the "internationalization" of the PNTCD's internal conflict (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 September 2001). ZsM

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS ATTACKS ON U.S., LIBERALS PROPOSE DEATH PENALTY

Both chambers of the Romanian parliament on 13 September adopted a declaration condemning the terrorist attacks against the United States and called on democratic countries to act together against all forms of terrorism, Romanian media reported. The government declared 13 September a day of mourning. During the debate in the Senate, the upper chamber of parliament, National Liberal Party Chairman and former Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica called on the government to ask the Council of Europe to establish death penalties for terrorist attacks. He said such acts should be considered acts of war. ZsM

BULGARIA CONSIDERS BUYING F-16S TO ACHIEVE NATO STANDARD

Defense Minister Nikolai Sinarov said in Sofia on 12 September that Bulgaria is planning to buy F-16 jet fighters to upgrade its air force as part of its bid to achieve NATO membership, Reuters reported. Svinarov said in an interview that "a small army with high military capability compatible with NATO armed forces is our goal." He added that the costs of the fighters would be high and that the country might need to upgrade and sell its MIG-29s in order to have the necessary funds to buy the new planes. Bulgaria has 21 MIG-29s but only three are airworthy as the others lack spare parts. Svinarov said Bulgaria hopes to reduce its armed forces from some 77,000 now to about 63,000 by the NATO summit in Prague in 2002. PB




RUSSIANS ASK WHETHER SCHOOLS CAN BE REFORMED


By Francesca Mereu

The Soviet Union guaranteed free education for everyone. The quality of education system had long been a point of pride for Russians; they believed it was one of the best in the world.

But after the 1991 Soviet collapse, education declined as scarce resources were diverted to other sectors of the economy. Schools were deprived of resources and common teaching standards eroded.

Those were the problems the high-level State Council attempted to address in late August when it gave tentative approval to a long-term education reform plan. The council meeting brought together President Vladimir Putin as well as cabinet members and state governors.

The core of the plan is to raise the amount of money channeled into education and to raise teachers' salaries.

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko said that under the proposed plan the government would allocate about 56 billion rubles ($1.9 billion) from federal and regional budgets to reform the system over the next five years.

Education Minister Vladimir Filipov said monthly salaries for teachers would be doubled to 1,200 rubles to 2,450 rubles ($50-$75) a month. Teachers are among the poorest paid workers in the country.

Angelina Burdena, a schoolteacher from Tyumen in Siberia, tells RFE/RL it's impossible to survive on such low wages. She said she keeps cattle at her home to help feed her family. Burdena said after so much work she has little time left to prepare her lessons.

The situation is not much better in Russia's large cities. "The teachers' wages are so low. A teacher has to work many hours to have more or less a normal wage," said Svetlana Ryazanova, who teaches in city school No. 325. "A wage can range from 1,500 rubles to 3,000 rubles. It depends on the amount of hours a teacher works. A teacher has to work 26 to 30 hours to have a wage of 3,000 rubles [about $100]."

Ryazanova said she welcomes the proposed 50 percent pay raise, but said it's still not enough.

Olga Leontova, a schoolteacher from Moscow, said that as a result of the low wages, she considers teaching a hobby, not a job. She said she could never afford what she called a "pleasure" if her husband didn't earn enough money to feed their two children.

Education Minister Filipov said the low wages have encouraged many students to avoid the profession. He said only about 50 percent of university students who study teaching actually go on to teach in schools.

The reform plan also calls for extending the length of primary and secondary education from 11 years to 12 years, and for introducing a system of standardized tests for entering universities.

Both proposals face strong opposition and are not likely to be implemented soon, but if it were, few parents appear enthusiastic about their child spending an additional year in school.

"[This new] system is too long. More subjects will be [introduced]...more than children need at their age," said Galina Nazarova while shopping for a school uniform for her son Dima.

According to Nazarova, an additional downside to an extra year would be that Dima, as a male, would face the prospect of being conscripted into the military immediately following the completion of his degree.

Russian children typically enter school at age seven, and the 12-year system would mean that most would finish at 18. Young men at that age are subject to the draft unless they have certain exemptions, such as being admitted to a university.

In regard to the standardized entrance exams for universities, the plan's authors believe such a move would reduce the incidences of students paying bribes in exchange for admittance to universities.

Under the current system, Russian universities administer their own entrance exams.

That system has encouraged the development of a "cottage" industry of so- called tutors who provide lessons to help students gain admission. In reality, those "lessons" are often bribes paid to members of the selection board.

Nastya is a second-year student at the Faculty of Economy. She said her parents paid about $50 per hour to a faculty professor. In turn, the professor, a member of the board of examiners, helped her pass the admission exam.

Nastya said at her school it is impossible to pass the exam without paying money. She said her admission cost her parents about $2,500 in "lessons."

Dmitrii Sergeev, a father of two, is pessimistic that the proposed standardized exams would change anything. "There will be [corruption], I'm sure," he said. "If it disappears from the universities, it will [reappear] at the schools [where the exams would be administered]."

Nikita Alekseev of the Russian Academy of Education concured. "In our country, it is possible to falsify anything. So there will be a lot of good students, with very good marks [but all this will be false]," Alekseev said. "How can university teachers work with them? This is a problem. [This reform] is not part of our tradition, since [in Russia] universities are used to selecting the students."

On the contrary, Alexander Gavrilov, the spokesman with the Moscow Education Committee, said his organization supports standardized testing, arguing that "We think it might help eliminate [students] paying bribes to be admitted to an institute or a university." However, Gavrilov added, "Moscow is not taking part in the experiment, since we believe [that it still needs to be worked out]." Francesca Mereu is an RFE/RL correspondent.


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