RUSSIAN PRESIDENT SAYS U.S. PRESENCE IN GEORGIA IS NO TRAGEDY...
Speaking in Almaty, Kazakhstan, at an informal CIS meeting, President Vladimir Putin discussed the U.S. announcement that it is sending troops to Georgia, saying he does not see why Georgia should not act as other Central Asian countries have in allowing U.S. troops on their territory, Interfax reported on 1 March. "Every country, in particular Georgia, has the right to act to protect its security. Russia recognizes this right," the agency quoted Putin as saying. "The thing is, is that we did not know anything about this. Only the Americans notified us," Putin added (see "End Note," "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2002) VC
...ROGOZIN CALLS FOR RECOGNITION OF INDEPENDENCE OF ABKHAZIA AND SOUTH OSSETIA...
Meanwhile, State Duma International Relations Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin said on 28 February that if the planned deployment of U.S. troops in Georgia is confirmed, the Duma should motivate a resolution on recognizing the independence of the self-declared Abkhaz republic and South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. NTV reported the same day that the Abkhaz leadership is prepared to ask President Putin to allow the Abkhazia to accede to the Russian Federation as an "associate member." VY
...FOREIGN MINISTER, FSB DIRECTOR DENY U.S.-RUSSIAN AGREEMENT ON GEORGIA...
Igor Ivanov said on 28 February that speculation in Russian and foreign mass media about an understanding allegedly existing between Moscow and Washington to divide their roles in the Caucasus, and in Georgia in particular, is unfounded, ORT reported. "There was no such agreement and cannot be," he said. The same goes for rumors about allowing Abkhazia and South Ossetia to accede into the Russian Federation. "Moscow respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia, and is making no deals behind its back," he said. Meanwhile, Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Patrushev said that any information concerning a Russian-U.S. deal on sharing spheres of influence in Georgia, or on allowing Abkhazia and South Ossetia to join the Russian Federation, is wrong, Interfax reported the same day. Patrushev added that his agency has no information regarding a joint U.S.-Georgian operation against terrorists in the Pankisi Gorge. "I spoke with Georgian State Security Minister Valerii Khaburzania, and he denies such an arrangement," Patrushev said, adding that he will fly to Georgia this week. VY
...CONCERN OVER U.S.-GEORGIAN MILITARY TIES CLARIFIED...
Following his warning on 26 February that new U.S.-Georgian military ties will "aggravate the situation" in the region, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov clarified Russia's position in a late-night phone call the next day with U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. The foreign minister said Russia has "well-founded concerns" over the direct involvement of the U.S. military, and said that "Washington must take this into account." U.S. officials have tried to ease Russian concerns by highlighting that U.S. troops will not be directly engaged in combat operations in Georgia. On 28 February, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili dismissed the Russian warning as "an explosion of hysterical propaganda," according to Reuters. RG
...AND KREMLIN ADVISER SAYS U.S. TROOPS IN GEORGIA CONTRIBUTE TO RUSSIAN SECURITY
Gleb Pavlovskii, a Kremlin political adviser and head of the Fund of Efficient Policy, said on 28 February that Russia should not fear the presence of U.S. troops in Georgia, and should take advantage of the situation to practice the "coalition interaction between Russia and the United States," strana.ru reported on 28 February. "With every American blow on our enemies we are increasing our security, saving the lives of our soldiers, and gaining time for our own rearmament," he said. "This advantage should be used and instantly converted into adequate foreign and domestic polices," he added. "But instead, retired Moscow generals and experts are making noise each time they see Americans [near the Russian border]." VY
CONSORTIUM TO SUPPORT TV-6 TEAM FINALLY REGISTERED
On 28 February, former head of Metalloinvest Oleg Kiselev, Unified Energy Systems head Anatolii Chubais, Chukotka Autonomous Okrug Governor Roman Abramovich, Russian Aluminum head Oleg Deripaska, MDM-bank head Aleksandr Mamut, Joint Machine Works head Kakha Bendukidze, Vympelkom head Dmitrii Zimin, MDM Group head Andrei Melnichenko, Sistema head Vladimir Yevtushenkov, and Sual Holding head Viktor Vekselberg officially registered a company to support the team of TV-6 journalists headed by Yevgenii Kiselev, ntvru.com reported. The following day, Interfax reported that the group of businessmen, who will bid for the right to broadcast on channel six, will be actively supported by both Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs President Arkadii Volskii and Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chairman and former Prime Minister Yevgenii Primakov. Applications for bidding must be submitted no later than 6 March. The contest will be held on 27 March. VC
MUSCOVITES THINK RUSSIA SHOULD HAVE A SEVEN-YEAR PRESIDENCY
The ROMIR-Gallup public opinion center revealed on 28 February the results of an opinion poll conducted among 500 adult Muscovites. The survey shows that 66.6 percent of the respondents consider that the term of the Russian president should be extended to seven years, while 29.1 percent hold the opposite opinion, and 4.3 percent are undecided. Although the survey was conducted on a very small scale, the results indicate that the Kremlin's information policy on extending the president's term has been quite successful. VC
GAZPROM-MEDIA AGREES TO GIVE FINAL DECISION ON ITS MEDIA ASSETS SALE...
On 1 March, Ekho Moskvy shareholder and Editor in Chief Aleksei Venediktov met again with Gazprom-Media General Director Boris Jordan to discuss the sale of Gazprom-Media's assets, Interfax reported. Venediktov reported that Gazprom agreed to examine and decide on the procedure and timing for the sale of the media entity's assets at the next Gazprom board meeting, which is scheduled for 5 March. In an interview published in "Moskovskii Komsomolets," on 13 February, Venediktov said Gazprom-Media can choose between four scenarios. The first is selling all of its assets in Ekho Moskvy to the station's employees. In this case, Ekho Moskvy journalists would get an 84 percent share in their company and take total control over the board of directors. The second scenario lies in Gazprom selling only part of its shares in the company: in this case, none of the shareholders would obtain total control over the company. In a third scenario, Gazprom would sell its assets to an affiliate. In a forth scenario, Gazprom would refuse to sell any of its assets. Venediktov then made it clear that neither the third nor forth scenario could possibly satisfy Ekho Moskvy journalists. VC
...WHILE THE COMPOSITION OF THE EKHO MOSKVY BOARD OF DIRECTORS IS STILL UNDER DEBATE
In addition, Venediktov and Jordan also agreed to make public a single list of directors for the Ekho Moskvy board of directors, ntvru.com reported on 1 March. This list will include five representatives of Gazprom-Media, three journalists/shareholders of Ekho Moskvy, and one representative of Vladimir Gusinsky. On 26 February, Venediktov said he will quit Ekho Moskvy at the end of February to head the FM radio station Arsenal, which on 26 February won the rights to broadcast on the 87.5 frequency (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 February 2002). VC
ARKHANGELSK INVENTS ENTERTAINMENT OF A NEW KIND...
Russian and foreign tourists will soon be allowed to attend rocket launches from the Plesetsk cosmodrome in Arkhangelsk Oblast, Interfax-Northwest reported on 28 February. Oblast administration spokesman Dmitrii Isupov said this project was accepted by Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov and Arkhangelsk Governor Anatolii Yefremov. VC
...WHILE DESIGN BUREAU GETS READY FOR SPACE TOURISM
The Myasishchev experimental machine-building factory, based in Zhukovskii, near Moscow, is preparing to unveil on 14 March a model of the first vessel designed for space tourism, ntvru.com reported on 1 March. According to ntvru.com, the vessel will be able to carry three passengers and a crew on short-term trips around planet Earth. VC
RUSSIAN NAVY TORPEDOES USE OF WEAPON THAT ALLEGEDLY DOWNED 'KURSK'
The Russian navy has decided to discontinue its use of the type of hydrogen-fueled torpedo that reportedly exploded onboard the "Kursk" nuclear submarine, Industry, Science, and Technology Minister Ilya Klebanov told NTV on 28 February. He said that "the trust that our designers, scientists, and military put in this torpedo, whose production began in 1957, was unjustified." VY
NEW PROTEST IN PASKO'S DEFENSE
Amnesty International and Greenpeace Russia published a joint statement in Moscow in which they demanded that military journalist and ecologist Grigorii Pasko be freed, the BBC reported on 28 February. Pasko was sentenced on 25 December 2001 to 4 1/2 years in prison for "divulging military secrets." The statement said that the information made public by Pasko could not have undermined the combat readiness of the Russian Pacific Fleet, which he served in. It added that his sentencing was a political vendetta and was directed against the freedom of press. VY
FSB PROLONGS BEREZOVSKY'S CASE
Leonid Troshkin, the spokesman for the Prosecutor-General's Office, said on 28 February that his agency has extended by three months the investigation of embattled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, who has been accused of "bankrolling illegal armed formations in Chechnya," Interfax reported on 28 February. Troshkin said that at this stage investigators are checking materials collected by the FSB about Berezovsky's alleged involvement with terrorist organizations. Smi.ru reported on 28 February that Berezovsky will show a film in London on 5 March proving that the FSB has direct links to the explosions in Moscow and Volgodonsk in September 1999. VY
LENIN'S CORPSE IN EXCELLENT SHAPE
The Kremlin has announced that Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum on Moscow's Red Square will be closed for two weeks beginning on 1 March for preventative maintenance on the mummified corpse of the founder of the Soviet state, RIA-Novosti reported on 28 February. Meanwhile, the deputy director of the scientific center in charge of maintaining Lenin's corpse, Professor Yurii Denisov-Nikolskii, said that his organization is doing everything in its power to preserve Lenin "for many, many years," and that his body is "in excellent condition." VY
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH OSCE MEDIATORS
Armenian President Robert Kocharian met with the French, Russian, and U.S. co-chairmen of the OSCE's Minsk Group on 27 February to discuss the stalled mediation efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, according to Mediamax and RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. In comments after the 90-minute meeting, Kocharian admitted that he was unable to announce any "concrete results," but added that "the whole process of negotiations has reached a point where we have a much better idea of existing problems." The meeting, held in Vienna at the end of the Armenian leader's state visit to Austria, followed a similar meeting in New York with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev earlier this month. The OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen are scheduled to meet with regional leaders during a planned visit next month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 February 2002). The OSCE officials are expected to present a newly modified version of their peace plan that served as the basis for last year's high-level mediation talks in Paris and Key West. RG
U.S. MILITARY TEAM ARRIVES IN ARMENIA
A five-member senior U.S. military team arrived in Yerevan on 28 February, Mediamax reported. The U.S. team met with officials of the Armenian Defense Ministry to discuss the use of $4.3 million in recent U.S. military assistance and briefed them on their recent visit to Georgia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). Detailed plans for the utilization of the U.S. military aid is to be finalized during the Armenian defense minister's upcoming visit to Washington, set for next month. An Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman revealed that the U.S. officials provided an outline of U.S. plans for bolstering Georgian internal security within a regional context aimed at enhancing security and stability in the Transcaucasus. The U.S. team held similar meetings with Azerbaijani officials in Baku prior to their visit to Georgia. RG
ARMENIA'S FIRST BANKING MERGER APPROVED
Armenian Central Bank Chairman Tigran Sarkisian approved the country's first merger of two commercial banks on 27 February, according to RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau. The Central Bank has pledged $5 million in loans to ease the merger and promote the government's overall policy of banking-sector consolidation. The merger of the partially state-owned ArdshinBank, the second-largest Armenian banking institution, and the smaller Adana bank is linked to a group of Russian investors seeking to buy the resulting entity. The ArdshinBank, currently endowed with more than 23.5 billion ($42 million) in net assets, has achieved impressive growth since its near bankruptcy in 1997, but has been plagued by widespread fraud in many of its 29 national branches in 2001, forcing the dismissal of Chairman Levon Farmanian. The merger would leave 28 commercial banks in operation, although most fail to meet normal industry standards for size and capital adequacy, thereby contributing to the fragmentation of the banking sector. RG
AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARIANS FOCUS ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT
Leading members of the economic committees of the Azerbaijani parliament held a special meeting on 28 February with diplomats from several foreign embassies in Baku, ANS reported. The deputies sought advice and suggestions from the assembled diplomats to assist in their current legislative effort to improve the country's foreign investments laws. Although the codification of the existing legal framework governing foreign investment in Azerbaijan sought to strengthen the rule of law, the passage of more than 600 applicable regulations in the past six years has contributed to a confusing and often contradictory array of laws. Deputies also discussed problems related to the structural distortion of foreign investment, demonstrated by the 90 percent share of all investment going to the energy sector. Such an over-concentration in the energy sector, expressed in both foreign investment and though domestic state investment, has been a fundamental problem for the Azerbaijani economy. RG
AZERBAIJANI HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS CRITICIZE PLANNED ELECTIONS IN NAGORNO-KARABAKH
A coalition of five Azerbaijani human rights organizations issued a statement on 27 February strongly criticizing the announcement that presidential elections are to be held in Nagorno-Karabakh on 11 August, Turan reported. The human rights coalition denounced the election as an attempt to legitimize the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, and stressed that no election can be legitimate without the participation of the Azerbaijani refugees forced form their homes at the height of the conflict. Nagorno-Karabakh has held several parliamentary and presidential elections in the last decade. RG
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT WELCOMES U.S. MILITARY AS GUARANTORS OF SECURITY
In response to the recent revelations of a new U.S. military aid program to bolster Georgian security, President Eduard Shevardnadze on 28 February welcomed the deployment of U.S. troops as the fulfillment of a strategic objective, adding that he has been "working toward this for eight years," Reuters and AP reported. The Georgian leader stressed that the U.S. effort will guarantee Georgian sovereignty and statehood. Georgian security officials also revealed that U.S. assistance will support a two-stage Georgian campaign, comprising an initial phase with a law-enforcement focus to re-establish control over the Pankisi Gorge, and a second military phase with counterterrorist operations to be launched when necessary, according to Groong. The officials noted that the final operational details are still being formulated. RG
SPECIAL GEORGIAN SECURITY FORCE TO SECURE POWER STATION IN PANKISI GORGE
Georgian Energy Minister David Mirtskhulava and National Security Minister Valeri Khaburzania met in Tbilisi on 27 February to complete preparations for the planned deployment of a new special security force to protect the Khadori power station in the Pankisi Gorge, Prime-News reported. The new security group is composed of forces from the National Security Ministry, and is to be deployed in the coming weeks. It remains unclear how this new security group will interact with the planned deployment of U.S. Special Forces in the region. The Khadori hydroelectric power station has been attacked several times in the last year, and is located in a particularly vulnerable area of the lawless Pankisi Gorge. The Georgian government is anxious to secure its energy infrastructure in advance of any counterterrorism operations in the area, especially as any disruption in energy would exacerbate an already severe energy shortage. RG
GEORGIAN PRESIDENT CALLS RUSSIAN THREAT 'STUPID'
In a televised address on 28 February, Eduard Shevardnadze rejected the Russian threat to recognize the self-declared independent Abkhaz republic as "stupid," and supported the Georgian parliament's characterization of the threat as "open aggression," according to a Civil Georgia report. The Russian State Duma's International Relations Committee chairman, Yurii Rogozin, threatened on 27 February to push for legislation formally recognizing the Abkhaz declaration of independence if Tbilisi allows U.S. troops to be deployed in Georgia. RG
CENTRAL ASIAN COOPERATION ORGANIZATION FORMALLY CONSTITUTED IN KAZAKHSTAN
The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan met in Almaty on 28 February, one day before the official opening of an informal summit of CIS heads of state, and signed a treaty creating the Central Asian Cooperation Organization (CACO), RFE/RL and local news agencies reported. The document transforms the Central Asian Economic Union, a regional organization formed in 1994, into a new entity focusing more on security issues. The decision to create CACO was originally made during a summit of the four leaders in Tashkent in December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2002). Uzbek President Islam Karimov was elected as the new organization's chairman. In addition to regional security and the situation in Afghanistan, discussions between the presidents focused on illegal immigration, the need to improve transport infrastructure, the creation of free-trade zones, and problems associated with sharing Central Asia's water resources, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. AA
RUSSIA TO RENOVATE KAZAKH SPACE CENTER
Kazakh Energy Minister Vladimir Shkolnik, summarizing the conclusions of a Kazakh-Russian intergovernmental meeting held in Moscow two weeks ago to discuss the Baikonur cosmodrome, said on 28 February in Almaty that Russia does not plan to abandon the facility, ITAR-TASS and Interfax reported. On the contrary, Shkolnik said, Russia intends to spend 500-600 million rubles ($16.2 million to $19.4 million) in 2002 to refit the cosmodrome with new equipment and technology, and rebuild some of its structures. Russia leased Baikonur in 1994 for a 20-year period for $115 million annually, but only began paying in 1999. The two parties subsequently negotiated a debt swap to cancel the outstanding rent. Shkolnik said that Russia has agreed to pay rent for 2002 in cash in quarterly installments, AVN Military News Agency reported on 28 February. Last year, Russia's rent for Baikonur was also paid in cash. AA
KOREAN CONTINGENT ARRIVES AT KYRGYZ AIRPORT
The first South Korean members of the international antiterrorist coalition stationed at Kyrgyzstan's Manas airport arrived on 28 February, Kabar news agency reported. The contingent consisted of 90 military medical personnel. Kyrgyzstan's parliamentary Committee on Foreign Relations voted to allow Seoul to use the base on 21 February. The South Koreans join 1,100 troops from five other countries (U.S., Australia, Denmark, France, and Spain) presently deployed at Manas, Kabar said. Also on 28 February, a spokesman for the airport said construction of the camp to house Western forces there has been completed, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. AA
INDIA EXPANDS INTERESTS IN TAJIKISTAN
Indian Ambassador to Tajikistan Yogenda Kumar said on 28 February that New Delhi is keen on contributing to Tajikistan's development and will provide $5 million in assistance to that end, Tajik radio reported. The announcement came during a meeting with Abdulmadzhid Dostiev, deputy speaker of Tajikistan's parliament, to discuss closer interparliamentary cooperation. Tajik local media also reported that a Tajik-Indian consortium will construct a luxury hotel in Dushanbe, and that a joint venture between the two countries has been created to set up a factory to process and can fruit and vegetables in the Tajik capital. AA
UZBEKS, KYRGYZ STILL AT LOGGERHEADS OVER BORDERS
A new round of border delimitation talks between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan opened in Kyrgyzstan's Batken Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 February. Since talks began two years ago, only 290 kilometers of the two countries' 1,400-kilometer border have been fixed by mutual agreement, according to the chief of the Kyrgyz delegation, Salamat Alamanov. He added that 39 sections of the frontier are still in contention, and that the sharpest differences related to defining the border are in the Batken Oblast. The oblast is a sensitive area with strategic importance for both countries, especially following its invasion by groups of Islamic militants in the summer of 1999. Alamanov further indicated that no resolution is in sight regarding the status of the two Uzbek enclaves inside Kyrgyz territory -- Sokh and Shohimardon -- which Tashkent has on several occasions demanded be connected in some way to Uzbekistan proper. AA
UZBEK PRESIDENT RECOGNIZES REGIONAL DISPARITIES, PROPOSES MORE TELEVISION
Following the summit of Central Asian presidents in Almaty on 28 February, Islam Karimov acknowledged to journalists that different Central Asian states have different levels of democratic and economic development, and said that Uzbekistan is ready to learn from the experiences of its neighbors, in particular Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, Kabar news agency and Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. But he warned that each country must follow its own path, depending on its own history and conditions, and "the people's mentality." Uzbekistan would be studying models of bicameral parliaments in both Kazakhstan and Russia, especially the role of the upper house, Karimov said. A January referendum in Uzbekistan mandated the change from a one-chamber to a two-chamber parliament by the next elections. Saying it is important for know about "processes happening in neighboring countries," Karimov proposed an "open information exchange" in the region and the creation of "a single information space" involving, among other things, more opportunities for Central Asians to watch one another's television programs. AA
BELARUSIAN REGIONAL AUTHORITIES REFUSE TO REGISTER NEW WEEKLY
The City Executive Committee in Hrodna has rejected the request by Mikola Markevich, the former editor in chief of the banned weekly "Pahonya," to register a new weekly, "Hazeta Pahonya," in the city, RFE/RL's Belarusian Service reported on 28 February. In November, the Supreme Court shut down "Pahonya" after the authorities issued two warnings to the weekly, while in February prosecutors charged Markevich and journalist Pavel Mazheyka with defaming President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in articles published during the 2001 presidential election campaign. The Hrodna authorities justified their refusal to register the new publication by saying that Markevich is attempting to restart the banned weekly "under a different but absolutely consonant name." JM
BELARUSIAN TRADE UNIONS SET PROTEST FOR 28 MARCH
The leadership of the Belarusian Trade Union Federation (FTUB) has decided to hold a nationwide protest action on 28 March, Belapan reported on 28 February. The FTUB plans to protest against the worsening socioeconomic situation in the country and the authorities' unwillingness to conduct "social dialogue" with trade unions. JM
CRIMEAN SPEAKER'S OPPONENTS NOT OUSTED FROM ELECTION RACE?
The election standoff in Crimea between supporters of Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach and former Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn took another turn on 28 February after Crimean Election Commission Chairman Ivan Polyakov announced that the recent annulment of the registration of 30 candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 28 February 2002), mostly opponents of the Crimean Bloc of Leonid Hrach, was invalid, Interfax reported. Polyakov said two members of the commission "withdrew" their votes, thus making the decision on the annulment illegitimate because of lack of a quorum. Polyakov stressed that he has not signed any decision to expel any candidate from the parliamentary election race on the peninsula. He added that the commission will gather at some later time to decide once again on whether to oust the 30 candidates from the election. JM
UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS REBUFF HRACH'S SUGGESTION OF SEPARATIST REFERENDUM
Ukrainian deputy speaker Stepan Havrysh said on 28 February that Crimean speaker Hrach's suggestion that a referendum be held on acceding Crimea to the Russian Federation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002) is "an impetuous, ill-considered, and totally groundless statement that sounds like blackmail," New Channel Television reported. "It is an extremely dangerous way to add fuel to the artificial conflict on the Crimean Peninsula," Havrysh added. "Hrach should understand that, apart from political slogans, there is responsibility -- not only political -- for calls beyond the limits of current legislation," presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn commented. Lytvyn said the situation in Crimea is stable and under control, adding that statements about thousand-strong rallies in support of Hrach have nothing to do with reality. A court decision last month annulled Hrach's election bid in Crimea, provoking tension and protests. JM
UKRAINIAN SUPREME COURT REINSTATES ENVIRONMENTAL BLOC IN ELECTIONS
The Supreme Court on 28 February ruled that the decision of the Central Election Commission on the annulment of the registration of the Rayduha (Rainbow) environmental bloc was illegitimate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2002), Interfax reported. There are currently 33 parties and blocs on the ballot in the country's parliamentary elections scheduled for 31 March (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 26 February 2002). JM
UKRAINIAN PARTIES WANT TO CAST SOCIALIST LEADER OUT OF ELECTION
The leaders of six parties and election blocs -- the People's Movement of Ukraine, the New Force Party, the Unity Bloc, the All-Ukrainian Party of Workers, the Popular Party of Depositors and Social Protection, and the Democratic Party and the Democratic Union Party Bloc -- have appealed to the Central Election Commission to annul the registration of Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz as a parliamentary election candidate, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website and UNIAN reported on 28 February. The parties say Moroz baselessly accused "a number of officials of committing grave crimes, abuse of office, and other offenses" in a Socialist Party campaign spot on Ukrainian Television on 21 February. The spot featured former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko and included excerpts of Melnychenko's tapes in which a voice resembling that of President Leonid Kuchma is heard using foul language and allegedly conspiring to get rid of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 and 25 February 2002). JM
FITCH ASSIGNS ESTONIA'S HANSAPANK AN A- RATING
The international financial ratings agency Fitch Ratings assigned a long-term foreign currency rating of A- to Estonia's Hansapank on 28 February, the highest given to any commercial bank in Central and Eastern Europe, ETA reported. The rating is a reflection of the backing that the bank can expect from its majority shareholder Swedbank, which is rated A+. Fitch also assigned Hansapank a short-term foreign-currency rating of F2, an individual rating (financial strength rating) of C, and a long-term rating outlook of stable. SG
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT RE-ELECTS ITS LEADERSHIP
The parliament by a vote of 67 to 17, with eight ballots invalid, re-elected Toomas Savi of the Reform Party as its chairman on 28 February, BNS reported. The popularity of Savi, who has been heading the parliament since 1995, was demonstrated by the fact that he gained five more votes than Siim Kallas received to be elected prime minister. Peeter Kreitzberg of the Center Party and Tunne Kelam of the Pro Patria Union were re-elected deputy chairmen with 46 and 38 votes, respectively. They were not present for the vote, as they were in Brussels as delegates to the EU-sponsored Convention on the Future of Europe. SG
BALTIC AGRICULTURE MINISTERS ADOPT JOINT POSITION ON EC PROPOSAL
Agriculture Ministers Jaanus Marinade (Estonia), Atis Slakteris (Latvia), and Jeronimas Kraujelis (Lithuania) at a meeting in Riga on 28 February signed a joint agreement on the European Commission's proposal regarding agricultural support to EU candidate countries once they join the union, LETA reported. The agreement stated that the proposed lower assistance level to farmers in candidate countries does not ensure equal competition within the EU market. Moreover, it said that the production quotas and expected local consumption levels at the time of entry for the Baltic states are too low, as they are based on the results in 1995-99 and do not reflect the current situation. SG
POLISH SENATE HEAD OFFERS SUPPORT OF U.S. POLISH COMMUNITY FOR LITHUANIA'S NATO BID
Polish Senate Chairman Longin Pastusiak began a two-day visit to Lithuania on 28 February with talks with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, ELTA and BNS reported. He expressed satisfaction with the successful coordination of Lithuanian and Polish positions regarding EU membership and mentioned the possibility of utilizing the influence of the Polish community in the United States to support Lithuania's entry into NATO. Pastusiak then addressed a special session of the parliament, noting: "You also began [EU] negotiations later than Poland but are today closer to Brussels than we are." He said he chose Lithuania for his first foreign visit to emphasize "our big interest in the successful development of Lithuania and good-neighborly ties." In later talks he agreed with the suggestion of Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas that their two countries ask the European Council for a mandate to hold talks with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, as the international isolation of Belarus would not be beneficial. SG
POLAND, EU REPORTEDLY AGREE ON LAND SALE ISSUE
On 28 February in Warsaw, Prime Minister Leszek Miller and EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen reached an agreement on calculating the time that must elapse on land leases for EU farmers before they may apply to buy land in Poland, Polish media reported. Miller said the government will announce details of the agreement later this week. "The Polish side presented a solution that in my view is possible, and I'm very confident that we will be in a position to close the chapter [on the free flow of capital] by 22 March," Verheugen commented on the agreement. Addressing Warsaw's fears that it could pay more into Brussels' coffers upon joining the EU than it could receive, Verheugen said they are unfounded. Warsaw argues that likely delays in spending the EU's 40 billion euro ($34.6 billion) enlargement budget could turn Poland into a net financial contributor to the EU budget, even though its economic output per capita is less than two-fifths of the EU's average. Verheugen said the European Commission budget proposals envisage a financial cushion to ensure that new members benefit from joining. JM
GERMAN CHANCELLOR POSTPONES CZECH VISIT
Gerhard Schroeder has postponed his planned visit to Prague, international agencies reported on 28 February. A statement by the Chancellor's Office and a separate statement by the Czech government said the visit, which was scheduled for 22 March, was postponed by agreement of the sides. No new date for the visit was announced and no reason was specified. In an interview with the German ARD television channel, Schroeder later said that the visit was postponed because of a "heated debate" which does not make any "rational discussion" possible ahead of the Czech parliamentary elections. He did not mention the Benes Decrees, but observers agree that the allusion was quite clear. Schroeder said the postponement "will not have any kind of negative influence" on bilateral relations, but that "we found it better in the current situation to keep our distance." MS
KLAUS TELLS CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS: 'NO OMELET WITHOUT BREAKING THE EGGS'
Civil Democratic Party (ODS) Chairman Vaclav Klaus said on 28 February that if the Social Democratic Party (CSSD) wants to end the "opposition agreement" before the June elections, they should first face a no-confidence vote in the parliament, CTK reported. Klaus was responding to a statement last week in the daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" by CSSD Deputy Chairman Zdenek Skromach, who said the pact, under which the ODS supports the CSSD minority government in exchange for key posts, should be terminated before the ballot. "If Mr. Skromach says 'A,' he must also say 'B,'" Klaus said, adding that Skromach is "like someone who wants to eat an omelet without first breaking the eggs." MS
CZECH COURT ORDERS HUCIN RELEASED
On 28 February, a regional court in Olomouc ordered the release from detention of Vladimir Hucin, a former dissident and a former intelligence officer with the Security Information Service (BIS), CTK reported on 28 February. The court at the same time rejected a suit filed by the defense, which claimed that the panel of judges at the Prerov district court where Hucin is on trial is biased against him. Hucin is charged with seven criminal offenses, among them illegal possession of weapons and misuse of confidential information. His trial in Prerov will thus continue. MS
CZECH PREMIER CRITICIZES HUNGARIAN STATUS LAW...
Milos Zeman, who recently became involved in a dispute with Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban over Orban's demand that the Benes Decrees be abolished, on 28 February told Czech Radio that the Hungarian Status Law is "highly controversial," CTK reported. Zeman said that "so far" he has refrained from commenting on the law, but Orban's statements on the Benes Decrees relieved him of his reluctance to do so. "If the Hungarian premier interferes in the legislation of the Czech Republic and Slovakia, there is no longer a reason for us not to comment" on the Status Law, he said. He also called the Benes Decrees a "response to the planned genocide of the Czech nation" by the Nazis. MS
...WHILE CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER MEETS HUNGARIAN COUNTERPART
Jan Kavan and Hungarian counterpart Janos Martonyi agreed on 28 February in Brussels that relations between their countries "should not be further dramatized" and that cooperation within the Visegrad Four should be maintained, CTK reported. Both politicians are attending the EU Convent gathering. Kavan said later that he "can imagine" that Zeman and Orban "will not meet until after the Hungarian elections." In turn, Martonyi told CTK that Hungary does not wish to discuss the Benes Decrees in bilateral contacts or within the Visegrad Four meetings, or make the abolition of the decrees a condition for accession to the EU. MS
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS POSITION ON BENES DECREES COORDINATED WITH PRAGUE
Eduard Kukan said on 28 February that Bratislava and Prague have been coordinating their position on the Benes Decrees and will continue to do so in the future, TASR and CTK reported. Kukan said Hungarian Premier Orban's recent call to abolish the decrees was "pointless," as Hungary has never raised the issue in bilateral talks. Kukan also said that Hungary has not initiated another Visegrad Four summit to replace the meeting canceled due to Orban's statement, adding that Slovakia is preparing a meeting of the Visegrad Four and the Benelux countries in Bratislava on 24-25 May. The meeting, he said "will be a good opportunity to re-establish contact" with Hungary. Kukan also said that Bratislava is still expecting Hungary to confirm that the Status Law does not apply on Slovak territory. MS
FORMER SLOVAK FINANCE MINISTER TO WORK FOR UN
Brigita Schmognerova will become executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), CTK reported on 27 February, citing Slovak television. Schmognerova would have to renounce her political career. She announced last week that she was setting up a new political party, the Social Democratic Alternative. MS
ITALIAN PREMIER HOPES FIDESZ WINS HUNGARIAN ELECTIONS
Silvio Berlusconi said after meeting his Hungarian counterpart Viktor Orban in Budapest on 28 February that while he does not wish to interfere in Hungary's domestic politics, he hopes the FIDESZ-led government will run the country for the next four years. The two prime ministers stressed the similarities of their views on Europe and economic policy, with Berlusconi saying that a sincere friendship links him to Orban, whom he described as incorporating "the verve and energy of youth." For his part, Orban praised the quality of Italian-Hungarian relations and said his government strives to carry out a Hungarian version of Berlusconi's economic policies, Hungarian media reported. MSZ
HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS READY FOR COALITION WITH SMALLHOLDERS
Socialist Party Chairman Laszlo Kovacs on 28 February said he does not rule out the possibility of forming a coalition "with any democratic party," including the Independent Smallholders' Party (FKGP). He said only cooperation with the Hungarian Justice and Life Party or with FIDESZ is inconceivable, "Magyar Nemzet" reported. The newspaper also reported that Socialist prime ministerial candidate Peter Medgyessy recently mentioned the possibility of concluding a Socialist-Smallholder coalition pact. FKGP Deputy Chairman Jozsef Csatari said that "if we could reach agreement on the implementation of the Smallholders' key program points, including keeping Hungarian farmland under domestic control and raising the retirement age, we could accept governing jointly with any major party." Csatari said, however, that the "harsh lesson" the Smallholders have learned from their alliance with FIDESZ reduces the chances of their entering again into a coalition with the leading governing party. MSZ
HUNGARIAN EXTREMISTS DENY SECRET TALKS WITH FIDESZ
Hungarian Justice and Life Party (MIEP) spokesman Bela Gyori on 28 February firmly denied that his party is conducting secret coalition talks with FIDESZ. Gyori said he was only voicing his personal opinion when he suggested recently that in exchange for its tacit support of a minority FIDESZ government, MIEP would demand a vice presidential post at the State Audit Office and the National Bank of Hungary, as well nominating the future education minister. If FIDESZ wants to rule in a minority government after the elections, "let it do so," he said. Democratic Forum parliamentary group leader Istvan Balsai said reports of coalition talks with MIEP are "not worth commenting on," since the FIDESZ-Forum alliance will win the elections on its own. MIEP Chairman Istvan Csurka said the party's goal is not to win ministerial posts but to implement its program, a task for which it will "seek a partner." MSZ
HUNGARIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO STAY AWAY FROM ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN?
The leaders of the Hungarian Catholic Church will not hold any talks with the representatives of political parties before the April elections, Bishop Andras Veres, secretary of the Bench of Hungarian Catholic Bishops, announced on 28 February. Veres said the decision was taken at a three-day session of the bench in response to the "rude tone" of the current election campaign. The bench also decided against reacting to former Socialist Prime Minister Gyula Horn's recent claim that several priests are actively campaigning for FIDESZ at their churches. Veres said the bench has approved a circular that will be read out in churches on 17 March. According to a draft of the circular obtained by "Nepszabadsag," the document encourages the faithful to support "a political force that honors the sanctity of marriage and family, respects Hungarian cultural values, promotes national self-awareness, reaches out to ethnic Hungarians abroad, and guarantees freedom of education and religion." MSZ
NATO RESUMES HUNT FOR BOSNIAN SERB LEADER
On 1 March, NATO troops resumed their hunt for indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic near the village of Celebici between Foca and the Montenegrin border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 February 2002). Spokesman Captain Daryl Morell told AP in Sarajevo that a multinational force is "conducting ongoing operations to detain Radovan Karadzic." He added that "this again demonstrates...[SFOR's] resolve to act, in apprehending by force if necessary persons indicted for war crimes." NATO later said in a statement in Brussels that this second swoop did not succeed in catching Karadzic. The statement added that the hunt continues. PM
NATO DETERMINED TO CATCH BOSNIAN SERB LEADER
Speaking in Sarajevo on 28 February, NATO spokesman Mark Laity told RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service: "This operation is over. Our will to catch people indicted of war crimes is not. Within our mandate, we are going to be as active as we possibly can be, and I think what we have done today -- even though we did not catch Karadzic -- is we've sent a signal that the net is closing on him, that he cannot rest his head anywhere in Bosnia. It would be better if he surrendered now, because if we did not get him this time, then as long as he is in Bosnia, there will be another time." PM
BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS NOT INFORMED ABOUT HUNT FOR KARADZIC
Republika Srpska Prime Minister Mladen Ivanic said on 28 February that the Bosnian Serb authorities were not informed in advance of SFOR's operation earlier that day, Deutsche Welle's Bosnian Service reported from Banja Luka. Ivanic added that he does not see how the international community can ask the Bosnian Serb authorities to cooperate with The Hague-based war crimes tribunal and then not appear to trust them in a specific, important case. The Bosnian Serb cabinet met in an emergency session once the news of the hunt for Karadzic became public. PM
U.S. TO FURTHER CUT FORCES IN BOSNIA?
The U.S. Air Force commander in chief in Europe, General Joseph W. Ralston, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in Washington on 28 February that U.S. forces in Bosnia should be reduced from 3,000 to 1,800 by the fall of 2002, AP reported. He noted that there were 20,000 U.S. troops in Bosnia six years ago, adding that "sometimes we need to remind ourselves of the progress that has been made." There are currently 60,000 SFOR troops stationed in that former Yugoslav republic. PM
ASHDOWN CONFIRMED IN BOSNIAN POST
The international body supervising the implementation of the Dayton peace agreements voted in Brussels on 28 February to confirm British politician Paddy Ashdown as the successor to Austria's Wolfgang Petritsch as high representative in Bosnia, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. PM
U.S. WANTS WAR CRIMES TRIBUNALS TO WRAP UP WORK BY 2008
The U.S. ambassador at large for war crimes, Pierre-Richard Prosper, told U.S. House of Representatives' International Relations Committee in Washington on 28 February that the current ad hoc war crimes tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda should wind up their work by 2008, Reuters reported. He added that the tribunals have been lacking in professionalism and have been subject to unspecified "mismanagement and abuse." The news agency suggested that Prosper's testimony "underscored U.S. concerns that [such] courts could impinge on American sovereignty by subjecting its troops in the antiterrorism war to prosecution." PM
BOSNIA AND CROATIA CONFIRM OIL TRANSPORT AGREEMENT
Authorities in Zagreb and Sarajevo confirmed that they have reached a deal regulating the overland transportation of oil and oil products on the Bihac-Karlovac road, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported on 28 February. PM
CROATIA'S CAPITAL GETS A NEW MAYOR
The city's legislature voted in Zagreb on 28 February to elect Deputy Mayor Vlasta Pavic, a Social Democrat, to the top office, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. She replaces Milan Bandic, who was forced out of office in January following a drunk-driving scandal. That affair was widely hailed as showing that public officials are now as accountable before the law as anyone else. Pavic is little known, and it is not clear whom she will appoint to city government posts. PM
KOSOVA'S POWER-SHARING AGREEMENT MUST NOW BE CARRIED OUT
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in Berlin on 28 February: "I am glad that the political leaders appear to have put their differences behind them. I also appreciate the hard work of [UN civilian administration chief] Michael Steiner, who, having just arrived in Prishtina, has facilitated this crucial agreement," dpa reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 1 March 2002). Annan added that "it is absolutely important [that the signatories] stick to the agreement, form the government, and get about the business of governing and focus on the affairs of the people," Reuters reported. In Prishtina, Democratic League of Kosova leader Ibrahim Rugova noted that "we have taken an important step." Steiner said that "what is now important is that this agreement is implemented and is made a reality by Kosovo's assembly. My wish is that, if everything goes in accordance with the plan, this will happen [on 4 March]." The new prime minister is expected to be Bajram Rexhepi of Hashim Thaci's Democratic Party of Kosova, a surgeon educated in Zagreb, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. During the 1999 conflict he served the Kosova Liberation Army as a field doctor. His political base is in Mitrovica. PM
EXPLOSION DAMAGES OFFICES OF YUGOSLAV PRESIDENT'S PARTY
Shortly before midnight on 28 February, unknown persons threw two grenades into the Belgrade offices of President Vojislav Kostunica's Democratic Party of Serbia, Reuters reported. There were no injuries. Serbian Interior Minister Dusan Mihajlovic said at the scene that the incident is an attempt to destabilize the political situation in Serbia. He did not suggest who might be behind the attack but added: "This could only have been done by someone who does not want peace, stability, and security in Belgrade, the stabilization of the situation, and the normal development of the reform process." Police are investigating. PM
ROMANIA TO ACCELERATE PRIVATIZATION
Privatization Minister Ovidiu Musatescu on 28 February submitted to the cabinet a draft plan for accelerating privatization, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. Among other things, the plan provides for selling "unattractive" state companies at the "symbolic price of 1 euro" ($0.86). Prime Minister Adrian Nastase said the government will "assume responsibility" in the parliament for the plan within 10 days. Under this procedure, legislation is considered to be approved unless a no-confidence motion is submitted within three days. MS
NATO OFFICIAL MEETS ROMANIAN LEADERS
NATO Deputy Secretary-General Edgar Buckley met on 1 March with Premier Nastase, following a meeting the previous day with President Ion Iliescu, Romanian radio reported. After the meeting, Nastase said that the quest to gain NATO membership "must not be turned into an obsession" and that Romania faces a number of important decisions that must be taken "regardless of the outcome of the Prague NATO summit." These decisions, he added, pertain to the economy and the political system, as well as to the rule of law and the struggle against corruption. Buckley joined in Bucharest a NATO expert team that has examined Romania's implementation of the plan agreed with NATO for advancing candidates' membership. He said after the meeting with Iliescu that Bucharest has made progress and is a "factor of stability" in the region but that "more needs to be done," including cutting down the size of the army. MS
MOLDOVAN PPCD LEADERS COULD BE DETAINED...
Popular Party Christian Democratic (PPCD) Chairman Iurie Rosca told protesting demonstrators in Chisinau on 28 February that Prosecutor-General Vasile Rusu has asked the parliament to again lift his parliamentary immunity, as well as that of his deputy Vlad Cubreacov and of PPCD parliamentary group leader Stefan Secareanu. He said Rusu wants the three deputies to be investigated under detention, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Rosca said that representatives of the Prosecutor-General's Office tried to hand the three deputies summons during the protest demonstration on 28 February. The deputies refused to sign the summons, since the law stipulates they must be delivered to their domiciles. Members of the Party of Moldovan Communists parliamentary group denied that Rusu has submitted such a request. MS
...DENOUNCE RUSSIAN DUMA SPEAKER'S STATEMENT
Cubreacov on 28 February said a statement made earlier that day by Russian State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev is "proof that the current leadership in Chisinau takes its orders from the Kremlin," Flux reported. Cubreacov said Russia would be better advised to withdraw its troops and weapons from Moldovan territory, which it "occupies in breach of international law and the will of the [Moldovan] people." Seleznev called on the Moldovan authorities to "use the power of the law" against the protesters and to refrain from "giving in to the demands of the opposition." Also on 28 February, the CIS Parliamentary Assembly's Permanent Commission on Mass Media approved a resolution stating that developments in Moldova show "the opposition is clearly attempting to destabilize the situation and undermine the legally elected government." MS
MOLDOVAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST COUNTRY'S 'INFORMATION BLOCKADE'
The strike committee formed by journalists at Teleradio Moldova protested on 28 February against the management's decision to cut off satellite and relay transmission of reports covering the current conflict in Moldova, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. The committee said that "Teleradio Moldova is a member of the European Radio and Television Union, and program transmission for union members must be nonstop." It said the measure amounts to an "information blockade, an isolation of our country from the rest of the world, and consequently, once more to censorship." MS
SECRETARY-GENERAL TELLS BULGARIANS: 'MUCH DONE, MUCH MORE TO DO' FOR NATO MEMBERSHIP
NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson said in Sofia on 28 February that Bulgaria has made good progress toward meeting the requirements for NATO membership but "there is still much to be done," international agencies reported. Robertson said there is still "plenty of time" before the NATO summit in Prague in November, which is expected to make decisions on the organization's expansion. He said that all countries wishing to join NATO should "modernize, or miss out." Robertson's trip to Sofia is one of planned visits to all countries aspiring for NATO membership. After meeting with President Georgi Parvanov, Robertson told journalists he is not aware of any plans to militarily attack Iraq but warned that President Saddam Hussein "should be aware of the international reaction if he gives shelter to Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden." MS
BULGARIA RELEASES DATA ON FOREIGN TRADE DEFICIT
Bulgaria's foreign trade deficit in 2001 was $1.6 billion, dpa reported on 27 February, citing the National Statistics Institute. Imports amounted to $6.6 billion and exports were $5 billion. The EU accounts for 49.4 percent of all Bulgarian imports and 49.4 percent of exports. MS
SEEKING SECURITY OVER STRATEGY IN GEORGIA
The recent announcement of the new U.S. military aid program to train and equip the Georgian armed forces in preparation for operations in the volatile Pankisi Gorge has led to a number of interesting analyses. However, most of the coverage of this important new development has been distracted by a focus on a potential U.S.-Russian conflict over Georgia. While in some respects Georgia may emerge as the dividing line between Washington and Moscow, it is important to examine the U.S. role in Georgia from a broader regional perspective.
The Pentagon's unveiling of a program of direct aid and training for the Georgian armed forces is, in fact, neither as startling nor as new as assumed. The U.S. was engaged in a comprehensive effort to reform and restore Georgia's military capabilities well before 11 September and the subsequent "war on terrorism." The U.S. has provided Georgia with a significant amount of military equipment, training, and financial aid to combat the dangers of proliferation by enhancing border control, and it has engaged in the training of much of Georgia's senior officer corps in recent years. U.S. policy has also quietly encouraged its NATO ally Turkey to expand the level of Turkish financial aid to the Georgian military and to extend the increasingly active Turkish effort to rebuild Georgian airfields and military facilities.
However, the recent expansion of such U.S. aid to include the deployment of 200 U.S. Special Forces advisers to the Georgian forces represents an important revision of traditional U.S. policy in the region. This revised policy reveals a new level of U.S. engagement in the Transcaucasus, demonstrated by the little-noticed tour of the region by a small team of senior U.S. military strategic planners.
This five-person military team, meeting with leaders in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, presented an overview of Washington's objectives in bringing its war on terrorism to the Transcaucasus. The goal is to preempt the dangers posed by the sanctuary offered by weak or "failed" states to terrorist groups, having learned this lesson from the Taliban's Afghanistan. In the Georgian case, the newly trained and equipped Georgian security forces are the proxies to secure the Georgian-Chechen border area. In Azerbaijan, security forces have already moved against Islamists and have sought to contain clashes along the Azerbaijani border with Daghestan. As for Armenia, the approach has focused on pressuring that country to be more conducive to concessions to Azerbaijan over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in order to forge greater stability.
The expanded U.S. policy in the Transcaucasus should be placed in perspective, as it follows a similar course already underway in the Philippines and Yemen, and with early preparatory actions in northern Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia. The Georgian effort, although significant, is merely part of the broader war on terrorism. But there are implications and objectives unique to the Transcaucasus.
Such region-specific aims are dominated by an overarching campaign to strengthen the statehood and sovereignty of the fragile states of the Transcaucasus, which is essential to fostering stability in a region already beset by ethnic conflicts and vulnerable to external pressure. Stability in the Transcaucasus is particularly valued by the United States given its role as a prerequisite to the effective development of the natural gas and oil reserves in the Caspian Sea and the transport of Central Asian gas and oil through the region.
The modified U.S. policy in the Transcaucasus is not necessarily an indicator of looming confrontation with Russia, despite the occasional theatrical rhetoric in Moscow. Seen from a broader level, U.S. policy in the Transcaucasus is still very much a subset of U.S.-Russian relations, and relations between Washington and Moscow are still within the parameters of an expanding strategic partnership.
In fact, the U.S. is much closer to the traditional Russian perspective, with both nations elevating security concerns above all, reflecting an emphasis on issues of common interest and concern over conflict and confrontation. This also suggests less chance of clashing over divisive issues as in past periods of cooperation. Today's roots of cooperation are much deeper than ever before, with the main difference seen in the United States' adoption of a traditionally Russian emphasis on security.
The Russian reaction can be understood by recognizing that Russian President Vladimir Putin's legacy of intelligence training and experience has led to a calculated policy of utilizing the "power of perception" through a measured application of Russian pressure to highlight strength, offset by an honest recognition of Russian vulnerabilities to obscure weakness.
The Russian president has also deftly used superficial posturing and inflammatory rhetoric to protect him domestically, while arguing that partnership with the U.S. is based on a Western recognition of Russia's "great power status." Putin has also reasserted Russian influence with a renewed geopolitical value rewarded by a role in NATO, Western acceptance of his domestic hard-line targeting of both the "oligarchs" and the independent media, and a measure of understanding his actions in Chechnya. After all, according to Putin, it was the U.S. that joined "his" struggle against terrorism after 11 September. And by securing the Pankisi Gorge, the U.S. has also accepted the long-standing Russian insistence of a significant Chechen threat from within Georgia.
The main obstacle presently facing the U.S. in Georgia does not come from confrontation with Russia but is posed by the reality of Georgian vulnerability. No matter how successful U.S.-Georgian operations are in securing the Pankisi Gorge, and no matter how effective U.S. training is in reforming the Georgian armed forces, the overall objectives of enhancing stability and sovereignty are bound to be constrained by the fundamental vulnerability of the Georgian state.
By seeking security over longer-term strategy, the military focus will do little to bridge the divide between the central Georgian government and the separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and will most likely foster greater tension in Adjaria and Djavakheti. The lack of an overall strategy addressing the fundamental problems of rampant corruption and internal political discord merely suggests that the decline of Georgia will only be temporarily arrested at best.Richard Giragosian is a frequent commentator on developments in the Caucasus and edits the "Transcaucasus: A Chronology" monthly publication.