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Newsline - December 21, 2004


EXPERT NAMES GROUP BEHIND BAIKALFINANSGRUP...
National Strategy Institute President Stanislav Belkovskii, co-author of an "anti-oligarch" memo that last year launched the campaign against Yukos (see "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," 7 April 2004), said on 20 December that a group of officials and businessmen led by presidential aide Igor Sechin is behind Tver-based Baikalfinansgrup, the little-known company that bought Yukos's main production unit Yuganskneftegaz on 19 December, apn.ru reported. Belkovskii said that Baikalfinansgrup appeared after the recent verdict of the Federal Bankruptcy Court in Houston, Texas (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2004), and Sechin realized that Gazprom's foreign assets could be seized. According to Belkovskii, Sechin's group is hoping that sooner or later Gazprom will acquire Yuganskneftegaz in what will eventually be recognized as a fair sale. "In my view, this scheme does not protect Gazprom and the auction organizers from trouble in the West, because [what is] important is not only your legal invulnerability, but [your] reputation," Belkovskii concluded. VY

...AS ANALYST SAYS YUKOS WILL EVENTUALLY GO TO GAZPROM...
Dmitrii Tsaregorodtsev, an analyst with the Rye, Man, & Gor Securities investment company, told RFE/RL on 20 December that it is not important who is behind Baikalfinansgrup as it is only a "transit" company intended to make life easier for a future buyer. "Its main task is to absorb the legal assault linked with this deal, to be a target for future legal suits, and to give a fair buyer status to the end owner, which, I believe, will be Gazprom," Tsaregorodtsev said. VY

...WHILE DEAL IS CONDEMNED ABROAD...
Speaking at a daily press briefing, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 20 December that the "conduct of the [Yuganskneftegaz] case has raised serious concerns at the lack of transparency and independence of Russia's investment and tax laws and the courts," according to a statement on state.gov. VY

...AND AT HOME
Jailed former Yukos head Mikhail Khodorkovskii stated on 20 December that the "authorities have given themselves a Christmas present and destroyed the most efficient oil company in Russia," according to a statement on his website (http://www.khodorkovsky.ru). He said the auction was a "show" and called on Russian citizens to defend those Yukos managers and staffers who have been arrested or forced to leave the country. Meanwhile, the leader of the Motherland faction in the Duma, Dmitrii Rogozin, said on 20 December that his faction will send to the Prosecutor-General's Office a request for an investigation into the origin of the Baikalfinansgrup, newsinfo.ru reported. "The Duma deputies are very interested in knowing who are the real owners of the company and where the money for buying Yuganskneftegaz comes from," he said. VY

PUTIN AND GERMAN CHANCELLOR OPEN RUSSIAN-GERMAN SUMMIT
President Vladimir Putin arrived on 20 December in Hamburg for a two-day Russian-German summit with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and other German politicians, Russian media reported. Speaking to journalists, Putin said that he will discuss with Schroeder "any issues," including cooperation with the European Union in normalizing the situation in Chechnya, the situation in Ukraine, media freedom in Russia, and the Russian president's political reforms, strana.ru reported. Putin said that Schroeder, speaking on behalf of the EU, had proposed the active participation of the union in finding a solution to the Chechen problem and said that "Russia took this proposal seriously," RIA-Novosti reported on 20 December. The majority of Putin's cabinet, including Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, as well as security and intelligence chiefs, are attending the summit, strana.ru reported. Because of his good relations with Schroeder, Putin is likely to extend his visit and stay in Germany for Western Christmas, the website reported. VY

MOSCOW AND WASHINGTON AGREE ON FEBRUARY SUMMIT
Presidential press spokesman Aleksei Gromov announced on 20 December that U.S. President George W. Bush and President Putin will meet in Bratislava, Slovakia, on 24 February 2005, RTR reported. The two presidents agreed at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November to meet but had yet to decide on a location, ITAR-TASS reported. One of the topics on the agenda is Russia joining the World Trade Organization, RTR reported. Russia has already gained the go-ahead from the EU and China and is seeking U.S. approval to become a member of the organization. VY

COMMUNIST INCUMBENT HOLDS ONTO HIS GOVERNORSHIP...
Kamchatka Oblast incumbent Governor Mikhail Mashkovtsev won a second term in second-round elections held on 19 December. He won 49.6 percent of the vote, compared with 37.6 percent for his competitor, Ust-Kamchatskii Raion head Boris Nevzorov, according to kamchatka.izbirkom.ru on 20 December. More than 12 percent of the vote was cast against all candidates. The election was marred by any number of violations of election law, the most flagrant of which was the airing of election commercials on election day. Such ads are banned for three days prior to election day. According to RFE/RL's Petropavlovsk-Kamchatksii correspondent, the pro-governor TV station also called on its viewers to vote for Governor Mashkovtsev. According to the "Russian Regional Report" on 17 December, the campaign was so intense that the regional prosecutor asked to be transferred to another city, while the Union of Fishermen and Entrepreneurs refused to support any candidate and asked President Putin to appoint a governor. The Kremlin, however, refrained from taking sides in the election, according to the report. JAC

...AS REPUBLIC PRESIDENT WINS SECOND TERM WITH LIMITED OPPOSITION...
In Marii-El Republic, incumbent President Leonid Markelov won in the first and final round on 19 December with 56.9 percent of the vote, according to mari-el.izbirkom.ru. His closest competitor, Mikhail Dolgov, a Moscow-based notary who once worked for the Foreign Intelligence Service, got 19.1 percent. The pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party declared its support for Markelov as far back as July, according to Regnum. Of the four candidates competing against Markelov, two openly proclaimed their support for President Markelov's policies, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 December. Dolgov, who was critical of Markelov, was little known in the republic before the election. Markelov will be serving his second term. JAC

...AND 'AGAINST ALL' INCREASINGLY POPULAR OPTION
Of the five elections held on 19 December at the regional-executive level, the "against-all-candidates" option was the second-most-popular choice in two races, in Bryansk Oblast and Khabarovsk Krai, and got as much as 12 percent in a third race in Kamchatka Oblast. Meanwhile, in regional legislative races, against all finished second in the Arkhangelsk Oblast legislature ballot with 15.7 percent of the vote. The Unified Russia party got the most votes with 23.6 percent, according to the oblast election commission's website. In Koryak Autonomous Okrug, against all came in third with 12.8 percent of the vote compared with 33.3 percent for the Communist Party and 24.0 percent for Unified Russia. JAC

UNIFIED RUSSIA WINS ANOTHER DUMA SEAT
In Rostov Oblast, Fedor Shvalev, a candidate backed by Unified Russia, won on 19 December a single-mandate district seat in the State Duma that was left open when its previous occupant, Vladimir Averchenko, accepted a job with a federal agency, RFE/RL's Russian Service and panorama.ru reported on 20 December. According to preliminary estimates, Shvalev won with 65.7 percent of the vote, panorama.ru reported. His closest competitor, Communist Nikolai Kolomeitsev, got 20.2 percent. JAC

KALININGRAD FARMERS TAKE TO THE HIGHWAY TO BLOCK EU GRAIN IMPORTS
More than 200 farmers in Kaliningrad Oblast blocked a federal highway on 20 December to protest grain imports at "dumping" prices, Regnum and Interfax reported. According to Interfax, the protestors set up tractors with trailers and dozens of trucks and cars to stop traffic. The protesters have asked Kaliningrad Governor Vladimir Yegorov either to ban the imports or introduce a quota on imported grain and flour from EU countries. JAC

FORMER MINISTER SENT TO STRAIGHTEN OUT CAUCASUS ECONOMIES
President Putin has appointed former Labor Minister Aleksandr Pochinok as deputy presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, "Gazeta" and "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 20 December. Pochinok most recently served as an aide to Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov. According to "Gazeta," experts believe that the appointment of someone as experienced as Pochinok is a sign of how seriously the Kremlin is taking the problems of the region. The economy is in poor shape with average per capita income in the North Caucasus 50 percent lower than the national average, "Gazeta" reported. Unemployment in Daghestan, Ingushetia, and Chechnya is 60 percent -- eight times the national average. The daily also reported that Pochinok's boss, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitrii Kozak, has broader powers than other presidential envoys and has control over money flows into the district. JAC

ANOTHER MILLIONAIRE NAMED TO FEDERATION COUNCIL
Krasnodar Krai Governor Aleksandr Tkachev has nominated Farkhad Akhmedov, president of Nortgaz, as his representative to the Federation Council, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 December. According to "Kommersant-Daily," Tkachev explained his choice by noting that Akhmedov plans to invest millions of dollars in the construction of a ski resort in the oblast. Akhmedov is an Azerbaijani; he was born in 1955 in Baku, according to Turan on 21 December. According to the Russian version of "Forbes," Akhmedov's personal wealth is estimated at $330 million. Akhmedov replaces former Sochi Mayor Leonid Mostovoi, who served in the position only for about nine months. Mostovoi learned the news that he was being replaced from a television newscast, "Novaya politika" reported on 17 December. JAC

CHECHEN POLICE, SECURITY OFFICIALS ARRESTED IN DAGHESTAN
Five members of the Chechen Interior Ministry and security service were detained in the Khasavyurt Raion of Daghestan late in 19 December on suspicion of armed robbery and abducting two young women, ingushetiya.ru and chechenpress.info reported on 20 December citing Daghestan police officials. A search of the two cars in which the men were travelling yielded several handguns and grenades, ammunition and two stolen mobile phones. LF

LACK OF QUORUM PREVENTS ARMENIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATE ON LOST SAVINGS
Only 44 parliament deputies registered on 20 December for a special session convened at the request of independent deputy Hmayak Hovannisian to discuss possible ways to compensate people whose Soviet-era savings accounts were wiped out by inflation in the early 1990s, Noyan Tapan and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. A quorum requires the presence of at least 66 of the 131 deputies. Speaking in northern Armenia on 18 December, President Robert Kocharian dismissed calls for compensation as populist and intended to split the ruling coalition. Prime Minister Andranik Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation--Dashnaktsutiun both reason that the state cannot afford to pay compensation. The third coalition partner, Orinats Yerkir, made such payment a key tenet of its campaign for the May 2003 parliamentary elections. Its chairman, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian, has argued that "if we are increasing our state budget by 43 billion drams ($90 million) in 2005, then I think it is possible to channel 2 billion drams every year into solving this problem." Baghdasarian also said on 20 December that President Kocharian will set up a state commission in February 2005 to address the issue of compensation. LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS
The third congress of former Interior Minister Iskander Hamidov's National Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (the former Boz Gurd) took place in Baku on 19 December, Turan reported the following day. Some 350 delegates from 50 raions participated and reelected Hamidov, who was pardoned one year ago after spending nine years in prison, as the party's chairman (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 January 2004). LF

GEORGIAN TROOPS MUTINY YET AGAIN OVER LIVING CONDITIONS
Some 70 servicemen from the Mukhrovani battalion left their base on 20 December and walked to Tbilisi to complain to Ombudsman Sozar Subari about the conditions under which they serve, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. They complained of poor food and nonexistent medical and washing facilities, and asked to be allowed to serve closer to their homes in western Georgia. Interior Ministry troops commander Giorgi Tavtukhashvili, Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili, and parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze all condemned the mutiny; Okruashvili claimed that conditions in the army now are better than in previous years and the servicemen had no reason to protest. Okruashvili said the mutineers will be "severely punished." Officers and staff of the Mukhrovani battalion mutinied in May 2001 to protest what they termed intolerable conditions, while servicemen from the Kojori batallion deserted en masse for the same reason in March 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March 2000 and 25 and 29 May 2001). LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT SPEAKER DENIES PROTECTING OPPOSITION DEPUTY
Koba Davitashvili, a former close associate of President Mikheil Saakashvili who joined the opposition in February, accused parliament speaker Burdjanadze on 20 December of shielding former senior officials who he claimed were instrumental in the devaluation of Soviet-era savings bank deposits, Georgian media reported. Davitashvili accused in that context former Economy and Trade Minister Vano Chkhartishvili, now a parliament deputy, former Interior Minister Kakha Targamadze, and former Tbilisi police chief Soso Alavidze. He called for the creation of a parliament commission to investigate the problem. Burdjanadze rejected Davitashvili's accusations as without foundation and accused him of populism. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITIONIST PLANS TO FORM OWN PARTY
Gia Maisashvili, who quit President Saakashvili's National Movement earlier this year to establish an NGO named Government of the Future, told journalists in Tbilisi on 20 December on his return from a stay of several months in the United States that he intends to transform his NGO into a broad-based popular opposition movement, Caucasus Press and rustavi2.com reported. Maisashvili criticized the present Georgian government as unintelligent, incompetent, and ambitious. LF

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT PLANS MONUMENTS TO FORMER GEORGIAN, CHECHEN PRESIDENTS
A group of Georgian parliament deputies has proposed erecting monuments in Tbilisi and Grozny respectively to former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia, who died in mysterious circumstances 11 years ago, and to Chechen President Djokhar Dudaev, Caucasus Press reported on 20 December. Gamsakhurdia took refuge in Grozny after his unsuccessful bid in the fall of 1993 to return to power; he was buried in Grozny, but the whereabouts of his grave are unknown. Parliamentarians in the three Baltic states have reportedly expressed support for the Georgian initiative. LF

ABKHAZ PROSECUTOR-GENERAL PROTESTS REPEAT DISMISSAL
Rauf Korua has appealed Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba's 17 December decree temporarily suspending him from his duties because of complaints from highly placed Abkhaz railways officials, according to abkhaziya.info. Korua protested that his office was not involved in the investigation into alleged wrongdoing on the part of those officials. He also noted that the president is not empowered to dismiss the prosecutor-general, but can only approve a request by the parliament to do so. Ardzinba dismissed Korua on 17 October in the wake of the disputed 3 October presidential ballot but then reinstated him. In late November, Korua protested to the Supreme Court that Ardzinba's 29 October decree calling for a repeat ballot was unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). LF

POLL SAYS KAZAKHS DON'T EXPECT REPEAT OF UKRAINE EVENTS
A poll conducted on 5-13 December among 2,480 respondents in 17 major Kazakh cities by the National Association of Sociologists and Political Scientists found that a slim majority support President Nursultan Nazarbaev and few expect a repeat of the events in Ukraine when Kazakhstan holds a presidential election in 2006, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 20 December. When asked who they would vote for if a presidential election was held today, 50.6 percent of respondents named President Nazarbaev. Asked whether a "Ukrainian situation" is possible in Kazakhstan, only 16.4 percent replied "I think so," with 43.3 percent saying "I don't think so," and 40.1 percent finding the question difficult to answer. U.S. Ambassador to Kazakhstan John Ordway seemed to agree, telling a news conference on 20 December that a "Ukraine scenario" in Kazakhstan is "a rather far-fetched comparison," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. DK

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION OBJECTS TO PRESIDENT'S WARNINGS
The People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan held a news conference in Bishkek on 20 December with the participation of legislators Azimbek Nazarov and Ismail Isakov, former Education Minister Ishengul Boljurova, and Zamira Sydykova, editor in chief of the newspaper "Respublica," RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Speakers disputed President Askar Akaev's 17 December contention that 2005 parliamentary and presidential elections are likely to cause rising tension (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). The People's Movement said in a statement that the president's remarks were "precautionary brainwashing of people about large-scale repression being prepared in Kyrgyzstan under the pretext of the fight against terrorism and religious and political extremism," Kyrgyzinfo reported. Participants rejected official criticism of a "Georgian" or "Ukrainian" scenario, describing events there as peaceful protests against falsified elections, akipress.org reported. "We do not rule out the possibility of this kind of scenario for Kyrgyzstan, but we are not going to organize it," Boljurova and Sydykova said. DK

TAJIK DEMOCRATIC PARTY APPEALS TO PRESIDENT OVER JAILED LEADER
Tajikistan's Democratic Party sent an appeal to President Imomali Rakhmonov on 20 December asking him to ensure a fair investigation into charges against party leader Muhammadruzi Iskandarov, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Jumaboy Niyozov, deputy head of the Democratic Party, said that the party expects to receive an answer from the president. Iskandarov is currently in jail in Moscow awaiting possible extradition on embezzlement and terrorism charges that his supporters say are politically motivated. The party has already appealed to the international community on Iskandarov's behalf (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). DK

SEVENTY-TWO OBSERVERS TO MONITOR TAJIK ELECTIONS
Muhibullo Dodojonov, a spokesman for Tajikistan's Central Election Commission, said on 20 December that the CIS will send 50 observers and the OSCE 22 observers to monitor 27 February parliamentary elections in Tajikistan, Asia Plus-Blitz reported. Dodojonov also noted that by 10 January 2005 3,000 standard transparent ballot boxes and 3,000 portable transparent ballot boxes will arrive in Tajikistan from China, where they are being manufactured. DK

TURKMENISTAN SAYS FOREIGN FIRMS WIN $4.6 BILLION IN CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS
As of 1 November 2004, Turkmenistan has concluded contracts with 78 foreign firms from 28 countries for 219 building projects worth a total of $4.612 billion, turkmenistan.ru reported on 20 December. The bulk of the projects are in the production sphere, with 107 objects under construction for a total of $3.111 billion. DK

TURKMEN ELECTIONS GO TO SECOND ROUND IN SEVEN DISTRICTS
Turkmenistan's Central Election Commission announced on 19 December that preliminary results in 19 December parliamentary elections indicate that runoffs will be required in seven districts, turkmenistan.ru reported. Widely dismissed outside of Turkmenistan as a farce, the elections took place without the presence of international observers. The OSCE sent no monitors after members of its assessment mission were denied entry visas to Turkmenistan, RFE/RL reported on 20 December. DK

BELARUSIAN GOVERNMENT SET TO DISCIPLINE BAD PARENTS
The Belarusian Education Ministry has drafted a presidential decree intended to increase parental responsibilities, Belapan reported on 20 December, quoting ministry official Heorhiy Butrym. Butrym told journalists that the decree, if signed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, would require those deprived of parental rights to pay not only for the care of their children in orphanages but also their educations. Butrym specified that local authorities would find jobs for unemployed parents. "This will give parents who continue to lead idle and dissipated lives pause for thought," Butrym added. He said there are more than 32,000 orphans in the country, with 96 percent of them social orphans -- that is, children abandoned by parents who are still alive. JM

OFFICIAL VERSION EMERGES OF BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT'S KAZAKH VISIT
The presidential press service issued a press statement on 20 December concerning a secretive recent trip to Kazakhstan by President Lukashenka, Belapan reported. Lukashenka stayed in Kazakhstan from 14-19 December on what Kazakh media described as a private visit or vacation at the invitation of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Belarusian state media had remained silent about Lukashenka's trip, saying only that it was a "working visit." The presidential press service revealed on 20 December that Lukashenka had a "working meeting" with Nazarbaev to discuss issues concerning the "strengthening of bilateral cooperation in various areas, the prospects for increasing trade turnover, and measures to remove impediments to the expansion of trade." The press service also noted that, "at the request of the Kazakh side" and within the framework of celebrations of Kazakhstan's Independence Day, the ice-hockey "team of the president of the Republic of Belarus" played two games: one against Kazakhstan's national women's team and the other against a men's team. The games reportedly "generated much media interest." JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES CLASH IN TELEVISED DEBATE
Viktor Yushchenko and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych met in a 100-minute, live televised debate ahead of the 26 December repeat of last month's flawed presidential runoff. In contrast to their first debate on 15 November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 November 2004), this time the two men were allowed to address each other directly with questions. Yushchenko accused Yanukovych's election staff and political patrons, including President Leonid Kuchma and presidential-administration chief Viktor Medvedchuk, of stealing 3 million votes during the abortive 21 November runoff. Yushchenko also demanded that Yanukovych apologize for having called his opponents "goats" and "orange rats" in public speeches. Yanukovych repeatedly asked Yushchenko to hold talks on forming a joint policy after the planned 26 December vote. Yanukovych also sought to counterattack by claiming that the "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine and the subsequent legal and political decisions to restage the runoff were a "putsch" intended to deprive him of his legitimate election victory on 21 November. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS MOVE TO ALLOW ALL DISABLED PERSONS TO VOTE FROM HOME...
The Verkhovna Rada on 21 December rejected amendments to the presidential-election law allowing all categories of disabled persons to vote from home in the 26 December presidential ballot, Interfax reported. The proposal fell 18 votes short of the 226 votes required for approval. On 8 December, in a move intended to overcome the political crisis over the flawed November runoff, the Ukrainian parliament amended the presidential-election law by limiting the right to vote from home only to the disabled persons of "the first category." Presidential candidate Yushchenko and his supporters claimed that home voting and absentee ballots were the main tool for manipulating the last election results by the camp of his rival, Prime Minister Yanukovych. JM

...AND FORMS COMMISSION TO PROBE SACKING OF SECURITY SERVICE DEPUTY CHIEF
The Verkhovna Rada on 21 December set up an ad hoc commission to investigate the circumstances under which President Leonid Kuchma recently dismissed Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) Deputy Director Volodymyr Satsyuk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 December 2004), Interfax reported. Media reports have suggested that presidential candidate Yushchenko, who is suffering from dioxin poisoning, might have ingested poison at Satsyuk's dacha on 5 September, where he meet with Satsyuk and SBU chief Ihor Smeshko for dinner (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 December 2004). "If the president wanted to prevent the [illegal] combining of positions [by Satsyuk, who was simultaneously a legislator], that's one thing," said lawmaker Vasyl Havrylyuk, head of the newly created commission. "But if Satsyuk was involved in Yushchenko's poisoning, then the reason behind his dismissal might be different. We need to sort this out." Some experts have claimed that Yushchenko's symptoms developed too soon to have been the result of poisoning on 5 September. JM

EU CALLS ON BOSNIANS TO WORK TOGETHER...
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in Sarajevo on 20 December that all Bosnian political leaders should "do their best to resolve the current situation and achieve the political stability that is so necessary for Bosnia-Herzegovina to continue its reform process leading towards [eventual membership of] the European Union," the "Financial Times" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 December 2004). The London daily noted that "Rehn also said that if the government of [Prime Minister] Adnan Terzic...managed to hold itself together, the European Commission could reward it by holding consultations in March and advancing Bosnia's bid to receive a Stabilization and Association Agreement from the EU." PM

...AS BOSNIAN SERBS SEND MIXED SIGNALS...
Bosnian Transport and Telecommunications Minister Branko Dokic and several other Bosnian Serb officials nonetheless said in Banja Luka on 20 December that they might resign soon, in addition to the three who already quit to protest recent decisions by High Representative Paddy Ashdown on behalf of the EU and by the U.S. government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic told reporters after meeting with top Bosnian Serb political leaders that none of them wants "to provoke a crisis," adding that they will soon offer "constructive" recommendations to end the current political imbroglio. PM

...AND BELGRADE SENDS A WARNING
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in Belgrade on 20 December that High Representative Ashdown's recent decisions have served to "destabilize" the Republika Srpska, and he stressed that any move to abolish the Bosnian Serb entity is "unacceptable" to the Serbian government, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 December 2004). Serbia and Montenegro's President Svetozar Marovic called for "full respect for both [Bosnian] entities" and the Dayton agreement, cautioning against any "unilateral moves" against them. Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Miroljub Labus said recently that Ashdown "overstepped his authority" in sacking nine Bosnian Serb officials. Ashdown has defended his authority to fire officials but denied that he intends to abolish the Republika Srpska in the process of strengthening central institutions to facilitate Bosnia's Euro-Atlantic integration. In 1995-96, Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic and other leaders argued that Serbs should accept the Dayton agreement because it guarantees the existence of the Republika Srpska. PM

FORMER BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL TO SERVE WAR CRIMES SENTENCE IN BRITAIN
A spokesman for the Hague-based war crimes tribunal said on 20 December that former Bosnian Serb General Radislav Krstic will serve the remainder of his 35-year sentence in conjunction with the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in an unspecified U.K. prison, "The Guardian" reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 April 2004). PM

MACEDONIAN COURT SENTENCES FORMER ALBANIAN GUERRILLA COMMANDER TO TEN YEARS IN PRISON
A court in Skopje sentenced Avdil Jakupi to 10 years in prison on 20 December for kidnapping and robbery, dpa reported. Jakupi is believed to be a former commander of the clandestine ethnic Albanian National Army (AKSH). During the trial, Jakupi admitted that he kidnapped two policemen in August 2003 in hopes of forcing Macedonian authorities to free Avni Ajeti, who was arrested for two bomb attacks earlier that year, according to the private A1 TV. Jakupi -- who is also known as "Commander Jackal" -- later released the policemen and fled to Kosova, where he surrendered to KFOR peacekeepers in late January 2004. An unsuccessful attempt by Macedonian authorities to arrest Jakupi in September 2003 triggered a major government crisis (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 27 August 2003 and 2 February 2004 and "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 5, 12, and 19 September 2003). Jakupi's lawyers said the trial was politically motivated. UB

UN APPROVES CENSUS FOR KOSOVA...
Soren Jessen-Petersen, who heads the UN's civilian administration in Kosova (UNMIK), gave his approval on 20 December to a law passed several months ago by the parliament to hold a census in early 2005, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. UNMIK said in a statement that the census will provide an important impetus for Kosova's political and economic development. The last census was held in 1991 in a politically repressive atmosphere. Former Yugoslavia held a nationwide census every 10 years. PM

...AND APPEALS TO SERBIA
UNMIK chief Jessen-Petersen invited Serbian Prime Minister Kostunica on 20 December to discuss several issues relating to Kosova, including decentralization, missing persons, and refugee return, Hina reported. Elsewhere, Larry Rossin, who is Jessen-Petersen's deputy, told Nebojsa Covic, who is Belgrade's point man for Kosova and southern Serbia, that UNMIK is disappointed that the Serbian authorities have discouraged Kosova's Serbian minority from taking part in the province's political activities (see "RFE/RL Balkan Report," 10 and 17 September, 8 October, and 17 December 2004). PM

BASESCU SWORN IN AS ROMANIA'S NEW PRESIDENT...
Traian Basescu was sworn in as the new Romanian president on 20 December, local and international media reported. In his first presidential address at a joint session of Romania's bicameral parliament, the former Bucharest mayor pledged "that over the next five years, Romania will become a different country," according to Reuters. He told lawmakers: "We cannot talk about dignified EU integration without solving Romania's main problems: corruption and poverty." MS

...BUT LIBERAL-DEMOCRAT ALLIANCE GETS FIRST TASTE OF DEFEAT
Outgoing Prime Minister Adrian Nastase was elected speaker of the lower house of the Romanian parliament and Social Democratic Party (PSD) Deputy Chairman Nicolae Vacaroiu was reelected speaker of the Senate on 20 December, Romanian Television reported. Their elections followed walkouts by legislators from the National Liberal Party (PNL)-Democratic Party alliance and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR). Alliance and UDMR deputies and senators had insisted before the vote that the secrecy of the balloting be respected, while the Social Democrats argued that precedent allows caucus leaders to monitor how members vote. The Humanist Party (PUR) and the Greater Romania Party (PRM) backed the Social Democrats' stance. Some alliance and UDMR lawmakers cast ballots before the walkout in the Chamber of Deputies, but not in the Senate. Nastase served as Chamber of Deputies speaker in 1992-96. MS

OUTGOING ROMANIAN PRESIDENT HOLDS FAREWELL NEWS CONFERENCE
In his last news conference as head of state, departing President Ion Iliescu told journalists on 20 December that Romania is now "profoundly better" than in December 1989, when he first came to power, AP reported. "From an autarchic, isolated Romania in the last years of [Nicolae] Ceausescu's [communist] regime to Romania that is a NATO member [and] a future member of the EU, the road has been long and difficult," Iliescu said. He said that in his last term as president (2000-04) he insisted on a policy of national reconciliation, stressing that reconciliation implies awareness of past mistakes. He notes that those efforts led to "reparation gestures" toward historic personalities such as former King Mihai I and members of the Romanian exile. Iliescue also said they explained why Romania for the first time in its history marked Holocaust Day under his presidency, according to Mediafax, "when we commemorate the victims from among our Jewish fellow-citizens" and thus "respond to the need to approach the past critically and assume [its mistakes]." In an allusion to an aborted pardon granted to miners' leader Miron Cozma, Iliescu said: "I am but flesh and blood, and of course I make mistakes, as unfortunately happened during the last days of my term" (see "Romanian President Makes Ungraceful Exit," rferl.org). MS

DEMOCRATIC MOLDOVA BLOC LAUNCHES ELECTORAL CAMPAIGN...
Chisinau Mayor and Democratic Moldova bloc co-Chairman Serafim Urechean officially launched the bloc's electoral campaign on 20 December for the 2005 parliamentary elections, Flux and Infotag reported. Urechean told a gathering of several thousand people in Chisinau that the Democratic Moldova bloc's objective is to "openly oppose the authorities that have been ruling the country so stupidly for the last four years," according to Infotag. He said the bloc would "create hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs in the country, so that Moldovans will no longer have to go to Europe to look for jobs." Urechean also challenged President Vladimir Voronin to a nationally televised debate, telling the audience that "people would then see who needs to have his hands cuffed" -- presumably an allusion to a recent charge against him of abuse of office. Democratic Moldova bloc co-Chairmen Dumitru Diacov and Oleg Serebrian also addressed the gathering. MS

...AS CHISINAU MAYOR SHOWS VIDEO TO DEFEND HIMSELF
Urechean showed videotape at the gathering that he said proves that the charges brought against him were trumped up and filed on President Voronin's political orders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 and 7 December 2004), Flux and Infotag reported. The video shows Grigore Gorea, an officer within the police department's Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption, saying he was forced by his superiors to arrest a secretary in the Chisinau mayor's office, Vladimir Serban, despite a lack of evidence. Gorea also alleges that Deputy Prosecutor-General Valeriu Grubulea summoned him on 19 November and told him that he must file charges against Urechean, on Voronin's orders. When Gorea refused, he charges, he was dismissed from duties within his anticrime unit. Center for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption officials have denied Gorea's allegations. Meanwhile, the Committee for the Protection of Democracy set up by former policemen and Transdniestrian war veterans announced it will guard Urechean around the clock in light of the danger that he might be arrested. MS

IS RUSSIA NEXT?
"Will Ukraine's 'orange revolution' spread to Russia?" might seem like an improbable question to ask in the absence of any rivals to President Vladimir Putin. After all, Putin easily won reelection in March. Yet, a torrent of ink has been spilled in the Russia media in recent weeks posing exactly that question. The answers reflect not just how the authors view events in Kyiv, but the desirability of participatory democracy in Russia.

Among the gamut of responses perhaps the most "militant" was that of Viktor Militarev, vice president of the National Strategy Institute. In article for "Rossiiskie vesti," No. 42, he declares: "The main aim of the 'orange' revolutionaries is clearly being overlooked -- [their target] is Russia. In Kyiv, we can observe several processes occurring simultaneously. The forces at play are not simply dissatisfied with Vladimir Putin. [They] are prepared for active engagement in the overthrow of the President of Russia. In the first place, I have in mind [former oligarch] Boris Berezovskii and [Yukos shareholder] Leonid Nevzlin."

In an interview with dni.ru on 25 November, Marat Gelman, a political campaign consultant who is believed to have worked on Yanukovych's campaign, also floated the idea that opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko received financial support from Berezovskii. According to Gelman, it is Berezovskii's role that prompted Putin to play such an active role in the Ukrainian race. Yushchenko's big mistake -- according to Gelman -- was taking money from Berezovskii in the first place, thus provoking Putin's ire.

Writing for RosBalt on 24 November, Vladislav Kraev argues that the threat of a "velvet revolution" in Russia is a real one, but it exists primarily in the long term. According to Kraev, the experience of the last 10 years in the post-Soviet space shows that any kind of election is "risky," even when there is a "charismatic" leader such as Boris Yeltsin or an experienced politician such as Eduard Shevardnadze or Heidar Aliyev. "And when the acting head of the government is leaving then the risk doubles," he writes. "Russia in 2008 will confront the necessity of the search for an alternative scenario."

"Russian liberals," Kraev wrote, "sincerely enraptured by the revolution of their neighbors and their development of an active 'civil society,' for some reason do not want to hear that people on the streets say 'Ukraine isn't Russia.' This is really so! Therefore, any poorly concealed hopes [on the part] of politicians and political analysts for a future repetition of the velvet revolution in Moscow appear completely naive. My advice for the doubters: Remember October 1993!"

In an interview with RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 9 December, Vyacheslav Nikonov of the Politika Foundation echoed both Militarev's and Kraev's sentiments. Nikonov argued that what happened in Ukraine was the result of a long planned "special operation" that was "successful only because the Ukrainian government simply capitulated before this special operation." The Russian government, he notes, will never do this. "It is completely obvious to me that if the president of Ukraine had been not [Leonid] Kuchma but [Boris] Yeltsin, then no kind of orange revolution would have had a chance," Nikonov said. "Yeltsin had a lot more will than Kuchma, as he demonstrated effectively and actively in 1993."

In an interview RFE/RL's Moscow bureau on 9 December, former Union of Rightist Forces leader Boris Nemtsov suggested that the stories about excessive Western influence in Ukraine might be a device that Russian authorities are using to avoid telling the truth about what really happened in Ukraine. He said Russia's authorities "treat their own people cynically and invent such arguments of the type that the West influenced [events], or the campaign consultants worked poorly -- anything but the truth that the people were tired of the Kuchma regime, the people were living in despair and lawlessness and their last drop of patience was spent when the election was falsified."

Speaking on the same RFE/RL broadcast, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii declared that regardless of one's interpretation of events in Ukraine, direct parallels cannot be drawn with Russia as circumstances in that country are completely different from those in Ukraine. "Ukraine didn't have 10 years of war in Chechnya," he said. "There were no executions in front of the Supreme Soviet in 1993 by tanks. There was no privatization as it was done here in Russia. Ukraine doesn't have a resource-based economy. In addition, for 15 years everyone in Ukraine has been saying firmly and understandably that they want to be a European country, independent of what their leaders were really doing. And this means that in Ukraine, the preconditions for the creation of a civil society turned out to be stronger as a result, and we are now observing this. In Russia, the situation is different."

So the answer to the question would seem to be "not yet" from both ends of the political spectrum -- the conditions are not yet ripe for importing the "orange revolution" from Kyiv to Moscow. From the liberal point of view, civil society has not yet developed enough, and from the nationalist point of view, Russian authorities will not bend in the face of a Western-orchestrated uprising.

In the meantime, however, both sides can use events in Kyiv to further their own agendas. In an article for RBK on 1 December, Mikhail Chernov declared: "The harsh polemic around the 'orange revolution' sheds light on the existing situation in Russia: In our country there are sufficiently influential forces whose activities are directed against the existing government." Chernov goes on to quote Aleksandr Sobyanin, director of the Strategic Planning Service of the Association of Cross-border Cooperation, who calls for a "quick change of the elite at all levels of government power" because there are "representatives of Boris Yeltsin's business group, regional elites, the majority of the mass media, and the PR community, [who] will not accept and cannot accept a widening of Russia up to the borders of the former Soviet Union."

GUNMEN KILL FOUR POLICEMEN IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A drive-by shooting in the Maiwand District of Kandahar Province killed four Afghan policemen and a civilian on 20 December, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Kandahar police chief Khan Mohammad Mojahed blamed the neo-Taliban for the attack but said that no arrests have been made. Reuters reported the same day that one of the attackers was killed. AT

OFFICIAL IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN WARNS OF NEO-TALIBAN BUILD-UP
Abdul Qayyum, chief of Arghandab District in Zabul Province, warned on 20 December of a significant neo-Taliban presence in his district, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press reported. "Some 250 Taliban have recently reached the mountains in Arghandab" from Shah Joy District, while "70 Taliban have come via Daichopan District," Abdul Qayyum claimed. Abdul Qayyum asserted that there are five Arabs and 15 Pakistanis in their ranks. Shah Joy and Daichopan lie to the south and north of Arghandab, respectively. "In addition to informing the coalition forces and the central [Afghan] government" about the build-up, Abdul Qayyum said that his forces have "taken measures" to fight the insurgents. AT

KABUL DAILY URGES AFGHAN PRESIDENT TO ACT INDEPENDENTLY IN FORMING CABINET
"Anis" urged in a 20 December editorial that President Hamid Karzai avoid bowing to pressures in forming his cabinet of ministers. Lamenting the fact that "backward and developing countries" do not have control over their national sovereignty, the daily wrote that Afghans liberated their country from Soviet occupation "with the assistance" of "foreign friends" who, while providing assistance to reform Afghanistan's "political and economic life," are also "trying to participate" in the country's "political system through their representatives." "Anis" cited rumors that "various donor countries, influential individuals, and those who were defeated" in the October presidential election "are exerting pressure" on the president to form "a coalition" by "establishing a cabinet that includes powerful people who are not the nation's representatives." The editorial concludes with a call for Karzai to use his "legal authority" to implement his "own policies in a courageous and steadfast" manner and to avoid being swayed by either external or internal forces. AT

AFGHAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS LEGAL ADVISER
President Karzai issued a decree on 20 December appointing Abdul Salam Azimi as his adviser for legal and legislative affairs, Radio Afghanistan reported. One day earlier, Karzai told reporters that a delay in the announcement of his cabinet was due to constitutional safeguards regarding cabinet ministers, adding that he was seeking legal counsel to address the issue (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). It is unclear whether Azimi might be directly involved in sorting out legal issues surrounding possible cabinet members. Azimi is a former member the Constitutional Drafting Committee who also served as chancellor of Kabul University. AT

IRANIAN SECURITY OFFICIAL REPORTEDLY CONSIDERING BID FOR PRESIDENCY
Mehr News Agency predicted on 20 December that Supreme National Security Council Secretary Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani will soon announce his intention to run as a candidate in the 2005 presidential election. The agency did not identify its source, but it reported that Rohani, who is a member of the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mubariz-i Tehran), has delayed his announcement because he believes that Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is better qualified. Rohani is acting director of the Center for Strategic Studies, of which Hashemi-Rafsanjani is the director, and he served in the legislature for five consecutive terms. In a 20 December meeting in Tehran with former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, Rohani stressed the sizable gap between developed and undeveloped countries, IRNA reported, evidenced by sanctions policies that prevent Iran from importing peaceful nuclear technology. He insisted on Iran's right to development. BS

IRANIAN EXPEDIENCY COUNCIL'S CHAIRMAN'S STATUS REMAINS UNCLEAR
Ismail Jabarzadeh, a member of the Executives of Construction Party's central council, said on 20 December that Ayatollah Hashemi-Rafsanjani is best qualified to be a presidential candidate, IRNA reported. He speculated that the right wing will support Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the election. A report in the 19 December "Sharq," however, asserted there is a constantly widening "rift" between the conservatives and Hashemi-Rafsanjani. The newspaper cited as evidence Hashemi-Rafsanjani's office's rejection of a claim by parliamentarian Mohammad Reza Bahonar that the Expediency Council chairman will not run again. Bahonar also claimed, according to "Sharq," that Hashemi-Rafsanjani has identified a candidate to take his place in the presidential field. Unnamed informed sources reportedly said that Hashemi-Rafsanjani is backing Ali Akbar Velayati now, while he previously backed Hojatoleslam Hassan Rohani. BS

TEHRAN STUDENTS STAGE SIT-IN
An unspecified number of students at Shahid Rajai University in Tehran have staged a sit-in, ILNA reported on 20 December. They are objecting to the 2 1/2-year suspension of Majid Ashrafzadeh, political secretary of the university's Islamic Student Association. ILNA reported on 19 December that Ashrafzadeh was suspended for publishing and directing the play "Dipar," and the charges against him include spreading rumors against the system and officials, promoting apostasy, propagating for grouplets, and causing tension and rioting at the university. The students at the sit-in demanded a meeting with the vice-chancellor for student affairs but without success. BS

TEHRAN BLAMES U.S.FOR BOMBINGS IN IRAQ
In Tehran on 20 December, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the previous day's suicide bombings in the Iraqi cities of Al-Najaf and Karbala reflect an effort to undermine Islamic unity and to spark a sectarian war. In his comments to pilgrims preparing to leave for Mecca, Khamenei said the United States wants a war between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, state radio reported. "I have no doubt that the American and Israeli espionage services are involved in these incidents," he said. "They either do it themselves or they might deceive a few people and force them to do it." Khamenei warned his audience that "mercenaries" will be hired to cause problems during the pilgrimage. Parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel condemned the bombings on 20 December, IRNA reported, pinning the blame on the "occupation forces" and those who fear Iraqis' taking charge of their country's leadership. Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 19 December that the bombings are "part of the effort to exacerbate disputes, fan the flames of war, and cause insecurity for various ethnic groups and religious sects," state television reported. BS

IRAQI PRIME MINISTER SAYS INSURGENTS WANT CIVIL WAR...
Responding to a series of bombings against Shi'ite cities, interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi accused insurgents of trying to start a civil war and derail upcoming elections in Iraq, AP reported on 20 December. "These attacks are designed to stop the political process from taking place in Iraq," Allawi said the same day, stressing that the 30 January vote will proceed on schedule. Allawi added that the militants want to "create ethnic and religious tensions, problems and conflicts...to destroy the unity of this country." In another attack in Karbala on 20 December, a bomb exploded at a police checkpoint but caused no casualties, AP reported. Police said they arrested the attacker. BW

...AND DISTANCES GOVERNMENT FROM DEFENSE MINISTER'S ACCUSATIONS AGAINST IRAN AND SYRIA...
Prime Minister Allawi said on 20 December that comments his defense minister reportedly made accusing Iran and Syria of supporting insurgents in Iraq did not represent the government's position, AP reported the same day. On 15 December, Iraqi Defense Minister Hazim Shalan al-Khuza'i accused Iranian and Syrian intelligence agents of collaborating with former operatives from Saddam Hussein's security forces and Jordanian terrorist Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi to destabilize Iraq. Iran and Syria have denied the accusation. "The minister of defense was talking from his own perspective, [which does] not represent the government attitude," Allawi said, according to AP. BW

...WHILE IRAN ACCUSES U.S. AND ISRAEL OF STAGING ATTACKS IN IRAQI SHI'ITE CITIES...
Iran's supreme spiritual leader said on 20 December that Israeli and U.S. agents staged the bombings in Iraq's Shi'ite holy cities of Karbala and Al-Najaf in an effort to rig the nation's elections, Reuters reported the same day. "I am sure Israeli and American spy services were behind these events. This is a plot aimed at keeping the Iraqis so busy that they will miss the exceptional chance to participate in the 30 January elections," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said, speaking to Mecca-pilgrimage organizers on state television. "The British and Americans want to hold elections on the surface, but in reality they want to bring their own agents to power by holding superficial elections." BW

...AS IRAQIS DEMONSTRATE AGAINST SYRIA AND IRAN
About 100 Iraqis protested on 20 December outside Syria's interest section in Baghdad, blaming that neighboring country for a wave of bombings plaguing Iraq, AFP reported the same day. Standing outside the Algerian Embassy that houses the Syrian interest section, demonstrators chanted, according to AFP, "Bashar, stop your car bombs!" in reference to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; "Ba'ath and Al-Qaeda equals terrorists!"; and "Tehran and Damascus equals terrorists!" Politician Mithal al-Alussi led the demonstration and said he met with a Syrian diplomat inside the embassy and told him "to tell his government that it must stop killing Iraqis, making blood flow ,and constructing car bombs." Al-Alussi's Democratic Party of the Iraqi Nation -- which was expelled from Ahmed Chalabi's Iraq National Congress coalition after al-Alussi made a trip to Israel -- is fielding 25 candidates in the 30 January elections, AFP reported. BW

BLAIR ARRIVES IN IRAQ FOR SURPRISE VISIT
British Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise visit to Baghdad on 21 December for talks with Prime Minister Allawi, international news agencies reported the same day. After arriving in Baghdad aboard a British military transport, Blair boarded a Royal Air Force "Puma" helicopter that flew him to the city center with a U.S. Black Hawk-helicopter escort. The visit is Blair's first to Baghdad and his third to Iraq since Saddam Hussein was toppled in April 2003. Blair visited British troops stationed around the southern Iraqi city of Basra in mid-2003 and in January. BW

IRAQI TRIBUNAL REBUKES CRITICS, SAYS PROCESS WILL BE FAIR
The Iraqi tribunal investigating ousted Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and 11 members of his deposed regime insisted on 21 December that their upcoming trials will be free and fair, AP reported the same day. Human rights groups and defense lawyers for the defendants have criticized the tribunal for excessive secrecy and failure to adequately protect the rights of the accused (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 and 20 December 2004). "The Iraqi special tribunal wants to ensure that it is an Iraqi independent court and that it has its integrity, neutrality, and transparency," the tribunal said in a statement quoted by AP on 21 December. "The trial process [will] serve the truth and achieve justice for Iraqi people," the statement added. BW

U.S. AIR STRIKES IN IRAQ KILL AT LEAST FOUR AS INSURGENT VIOLENCE CONTINUES
The U.S. military launched air strikes on the central Iraqi city of Hit on 21 December, killing at least four Iraqis, international news agencies reported the same day. Hamdi al-Alosi, a doctor working in a hospital in Hit, said four people were killed and seven others injured in the attack, AP reported. The U.S. military said it could not confirm the casualties. Hit is located 100 miles west of Baghdad in the Anbar Province, which includes Al-Falluja, where U.S.-led forces conducted a major offensive against insurgents in November. The air strikes came after several days of tension and increased insurgent attacks on U.S. forces in the area, Reuters reported. Also on 21 December, five U.S. soldiers and one Iraqi civilian were wounded in a car-bomb explosion near Hawija, 150 miles north of Baghdad, international news agencies reported the same day. Insurgents also sabotaged a grid of oil pipelines in northern Iraq on 21 December, setting the Baiji complex ablaze with explosives. BW

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