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Newsline - January 31, 2006

President Vladimir Putin told a televised news conference on RTR state television on 31 January that all members of the Group of Eight industrialized countries want Russia to become a full member. "I know how G-8 leaders feel. Nobody is against Russia joining the club, everyone is for it," he said. Putin added that now is the time for everyone with a view on the matter to say whether Russia should be in the G-8 or not. He noted that the position of the United States will be decisive in determining whether Russia is admitted to the World Trade Organization, adding that he knows that U.S. President George W. Bush is in favor of it. Putin repeated his opposition to foreign banks having branches in Russia. He also rejected the idea that Russian gold be processed abroad. "There are things that I consider to be unacceptable for us, and shipping gold ore abroad to be processed is one of them," he argued. PM

Turning to Central Asia, Putin stressed in his televised 31 January press conference that Russia does not want any more revolutions there. "Russia does not need a second Afghanistan in Central Asia, and we will act very carefully there. We have no desire for fresh revolutions. We need evolution that would result in the consolidation of democratic values, but that would prevent the [kind of] outbursts we saw in Andijon," he said. Putin called the recent victory of Hamas in the Palestinian elections a "big blow to American efforts in the Near East" and appealed to Hamas to renounce violence and recognize Israel. He noted that "the Russian Foreign Ministry has never recognized Hamas as a terrorist organization, but that does not mean we support and accept everything Hamas does and all the statements it has recently made." PM

Speaking on RTR state television on 31 January, President Putin argued that NGOs are necessary but must be independent and not manipulated from abroad. He added that the current imbroglio over alleged U.K. spying in Russia will not undermine the strong "basis" of bilateral relations. Referring to the U.K. diplomats allegedly involved in spying, he said "let them stay here.... It will be more pleasant to realize that these people are under our control. The diplomatic mission of any country consists of both people who perform exclusively diplomatic duties and those who representative the special services," he said. PM

President Putin said on RTR state television on 31 January that he wants nuclear plants to provide 25 percent of the country's energy by 2030 instead of the present 16-17 percent. He stressed that nuclear power is particularly important for the northern regions. Turning to the issue of brutal hazing in the armed forces, Putin called for setting up a military police force to enforce rules and regulations. "Defense Minister [Sergei Ivanov] has prepared suggestions on how to bring this work to a qualitatively new level, including the creation of a military police service. I believe that this would be the best option today. Control over law enforcement in the armed forces must be tightened," the president said. Regarding domestic politics, he stressed that Russia lacks stable parties with strong bases throughout the country. Putin argued that under these circumstances, it would be "irresponsible" to call for a government based on political parties. "We need a strong presidential authority," he noted. PM

Putin told journalists at his 31 January press conference that he thinks it is possible to say that the "counterterrorism" operation in Chechnya is being brought to a successful conclusion, Interfax reported. He said that Chechnya's law-enforcement bodies function effectively and thanks to their "thorough knowledge of local customs and conditions" they frequently "act more effectively" than do federal forces. He added that in some respects the situation in other, unspecified parts of the North Caucasus is more alarming than in Chechnya. Russian human rights activists quoted by the "Financial Times" on 4 January claim that the militia subordinate to Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov routinely engages in the kidnapping, torture and arbitrary killing of Chechen civilians. LF

Anthony Brenton, who is the ambassador of the United Kingdom to Russia, has written to several NGOs in that country to "assure all of our current and former recipients of grants that there is nothing unlawful or in anyway improper about our support to NGOs in Russia," the "Financial Times" reported on 31 January. The London daily noted that this "is the strongest [U.K.] response to date to the accusations made by the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) that some Russian NGOs, including the Moscow Helsinki Group, are financed by the British intelligence service" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 January 2006). PM

Public Chamber Secretary Yevgeny Velikhov read a statement on 30 January in which he expressed concern over unspecified recent "statements about contacts between foreign special services and Russian public associations [NGOs]," Interfax reported. "The Public Chamber Council calls upon the state and the mass media to refrain from using the scandal to undermine the prestige of Russian [NGOs] pending an investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the matter," he added (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 30 January 2006). PM

The authorities in Chelyabinsk Oblast announced on 30 January that they will make nearly $18,000 available in assistance to the family of Private Andrei Sychyov, who was the victim of a brutal New Year's Eve hazing at the Chelyabinsk Armor Academy, Russian news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). Doctors said that Sychyov is able to breathe on his own but will have to remain hospitalized for some time. He did not receive medical care for about three days after the beating, by which time gangrene had set in, necessitating the amputation of his legs, genitals, and parts of his fingers. In Moscow, lawyer Anatoly Kucherena said that the Public Chamber will take up the problem of hazing and form a working group with the Defense Ministry. He chairs the advisory body's commission for public control over law enforcement and security agencies and over judicial-system reforms. PM

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin told the weekly magazine "Itogi" of 30 January in an article marking his 75th birthday that Russia lacks the "political or national prerequisites" for the kind of popular revolt that took place in Georgia and Ukraine, Interfax reported. He argued that Russia managed to avoid bloodshed in the early 1990s "although we were close to it in 1991 and 1993." He stressed that "we did not change everything immediately, but our path from totalitarianism to a normal, sound, and civilized society was correct." Yeltsin defended his policies in Chechnya and his choice of Putin as his successor. "I tried to find a man whose fundamental values are freedom, the market, and progress together with civilized states. I thought it important for him to have a strong will.... Russians felt his strength and elected Putin president," Yeltsin said. He also expressed confidence that Putin will step down at the end of his current term in 2008 and not attempt to change the constitution. Yeltsin said that he is living off his pension and book royalties. "I published three books, which have been released in 60 countries.... Writing is my living," he added. PM

A Russian Interior Ministry official said on 30 January that the authorities are holding 14 people suspected of belonging to a Ukrainian criminal gang believed to have carried out over 50 contract killings, RIA Novosti reported. PM

Speaking on 30 January in Moscow at a press conference at Interfax's head office, Murat Zyazikov yet again rejected the possibility of recombining Ingushetia with neighboring Chechnya to form a single federation subject, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 October 2002, 15 and 23 October, 3 November and 30 December 2003, and 22 January 2004). Zyazikov said such a combined republic "is history." He added, however, that the peoples of the two regions should decide on any such move, thereby implying that the issue could be put to a referendum. Chechen pro-Moscow administration head Alu Alkhanov similarly stated last month that a decision on any such territorial merger is the prerogative of the population of the two republics, Interfax reported on 19 December. LF

At the same Moscow press conference on 30 January, Zyazikov likewise rejected the proposal, advanced last year by presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry Kozak, that those republics that are heavily dependent on financial subsidies from the federal budget should have their financial affairs administered from outside, reported quoting (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 September 2005). Zyazikov termed Kozak's related proposal to curtail the prerogatives of federation subjects that rely on subsidies for 80 percent or more of their budgets "legally incorrect and economically inexpedient." He argued that there are already too many separate agencies engaged in monitoring how budget funds are spent. Zyazikov listed recent accomplishments he claimed will help to improve the socioeconomic situation in Ingushetia, including the attracting of over 40 million euros ($48.4 million) in foreign investment in the agriculture and petrochemical sectors and a program to create 40,000 new jobs in the course of this year. Asked whether he intends to join the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, Zyazikov said that while he respects it, he sees no reason to do so. LF

Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Gurgen Ambarian confirmed on 30 January initial reports that the death of Arshak Karakhanian, deputy prosecutor of Yerevan's Malatia-Sebastia district, was suicide, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. At the same time, Ambarian said that a criminal investigation has been opened into the possibility that Karakhanian, whose body was found in his office on 27 January, may have been driven to kill himself under pressure. He did not elaborate. Karakhanian, who reportedly left two brief notes, died from a single gunshot from his own pistol. That weapon's previous owner, senior prosecutor Aram Karapetian, killed himself in 1998 after murdering then Prosecutor-General Henrik Khachatrian (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 1998 and 4 September 2001). LF

Meeting in Baku on 30 January, leading members of the Yeni Siyaset (New Politics, aka YeS) election bloc decided to field candidates in the 13 May elections in 10 constituencies where the results of the 6 November parliamentary elections were annulled, reported on 31 January. YeS co-founder Eldar Namazov said that the bloc will cooperate with international organizations to monitor stringently the conduct of the vote. On 31 January, quoted Ayaz Rustamov, the acting chairman of the wing of the Azerbaijan National Independence Party that remains loyal to party founder Etibar Mammadov, as saying that his party will adopt a formal decision on participating in the 13 May vote. The opposition Musavat party, one of three members of the main opposition election bloc Azadliq, is to decide at a meeting of its leadership on 5 February whether or not to participate. Hasan Kerimov, deputy chairman of the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AXCP) progressive wing, which is also a member of Azadliq, told that Musavat will be expelled from the bloc if it decides to participate in the repeat vote, which the AXCP has pledged to boycott (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 January 2006). LF

The health of former Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev, who was arrested three months ago on charges of plotting with exiled former parliament speaker Rasul Quliyev to overthrow the Azerbaijani leadership, has again deteriorated, reported on 31 January quoting the committee established to protect the rights of Aliyev and his brother Rafiq, who was also detained on similar charges. Farhad Aliyev has suffered severe fluctuations in blood pressure on at least two previous occasions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 and 29 December 2005 and 4, 11 and 23 January 2006). LF

In a live address on Georgian television on 30 January, Mikheil Saakashvili praised the government's response to the 22 January explosions that deprived Georgia for days on end of gas and electricity supplies from Russia, Caucasus Press reported. He claimed the government's timely response prevented the total breakdown of the Georgian energy system that those persons responsible for the explosions had hoped to precipitate. Saakashvili said the crisis has highlighted the need for Georgia to secure alternative supplies of gas and electricity, and he hailed as "historic" the 27 January agreement to import gas from Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). Georgian International Gas Corporation head David Ingorokva told journalists that Georgia will continue importing gas from Iran and Azerbaijan "until we are absolutely certain" that regular supplies of Russian gas have been resumed, Caucasus Press reported on 31 January. Russian gas supplies to both Georgia and Armenia resumed late on 30 January. LF

Russia no longer considers the "Basic Principles for the Distribution of Competencies between Tbilisi and Sukhumi" drafted four years ago by UN envoy Dieter Boden an appropriate basis for talks on resolving the Abkhaz conflict, the "Financial Times" reported on 31 January quoting an unnamed Russian diplomat. Sergei Bagapsh, president of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, argued in a 20 January letter to the UN Security Council that the so-called "Boden document" is unrealistic and unworkable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). Addressing a Security Council session on 27 January that focused on Abkhazia, Irakli Alasania, who is President Saakashvili's special envoy for the conflict, argued that Russia's withdrawal of support for the "Basic Principles" is tantamount to support for secessionism and ethnic cleansing, Caucasus Press reported on 28 January. LF

Georgian human rights NGOs have blamed Bacho Akhalaya, head of the agency that oversees the country's prisons, for the protest that flared up early on 30 January in the Rustavi penal colony, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). They claim that Akhalaya arrived, drunk and accompanied by several women, at the colony early on 30 January and demanded that an unspecified number of prisoners strip naked and run around in the open air in sub-zero temperatures. When they protested, Akhalaya called in special forces troops. Georgian human rights ombudsman Sozar Subar said later on 30 January that the troops fired rubber bullets to restore order. LF

President Nursultan Nazarbaev met with Alikhan Baimenov, leader of the opposition Ak Zhol Party, in Astana on 30 January, Kazinform reported. Their meeting focused on political modernization in Kazakhstan, the report said. Baimenov told journalists after the meeting that Ak Zhol will participate in a new official commission intended to develop and specify a "program of democratic reforms." "Undoubtedly, we have an interest in political transformations and we intend to take part in the work of the state commission," Baimenov said. Nazarbaev plans to lead the commission, which will be formed on the basis of the existing National Commission on Democratization and Civil Society. Opposition parties had previously refused to take part in the commission's work, because they saw it as primarily for show. DK

The employees of the state-run Kyrgyz newspaper "Kyrgyz Tuusu" staged a demonstration in Bishkek on 30 January to protest the dismissal of Editor in Chief Bakyt Orunbekov, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Prime Minister Feliks Kulov sacked Orunbekov in an unpublished decree on 27 January. Orunbekov, a critic of former President Askar Akaev who became editor-in-chief after Akaev's ouster in March 2005, said he was fired for the publication of articles critical of Kulov. And government spokesman Jediger Saalaev told RFE/RL that Orunbekov allowed "one-sided, libelous" articles about Kulov to appear in the newspaper. "Kyrgyz Tuusu" Deputy Editor Melis Sulaimanov told that Orunbekov's dismissal is an example of "political repression by Kulov." Ryzbek Omurzakov, editor in chief of the independent newspaper "Tribuna," told RFE/RL that Orunbekov had managed to bring diversity of opinion to the previously staid "Kyrgyz Tuusu." A group of journalists in Jalal-Abad sent an appeal to President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Kulov asking them to reinstate Orunbekov, reported on 30 January. DK

Security Council Secretary Miroslav Niyazov told a press conference in Bishkek on 30 January that he has prepared a letter of resignation to submit to President Bakiev, Kabar reported. "The president can review this issue," Niyazov commented. Security Council Deputy Secretary Vyacheslav Khan has already submitted his resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). Bakiev has not yet responded. Parliament recently asked Bakiev to dismiss National Security Service head Tashtemir Aitbaev and called for Khan's resignation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 January 2006). Bakiev said on 27 January that he would not fire Aitbaev. DK

Niyazov told journalists that he does not believe that political upheaval threatens Kyrgyzstan, reported. "We should admit that there are still unsolved problems in the country, outposts of tension," Niyazov said. "Nonetheless, there are no objective conditions for counterrevolution in the country." Noting recent scandals involving the criminal infiltration of the National Security Service (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 27 January 2006) and the rotation of governors (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20, 23, 25, and 30 January 2006), Niyazov said the country is going through "yet another stage of development." DK

Kyrgyzstan has tightened security measures at checkpoints along the Kyrgyz-Tajik border in the wake of a violent prison break in Tajikistan on 25 January, reported, citing Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service. The move follows unconfirmed reports that members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IME) took part in the attack, which killed the head of a detention center in Tajikistan, and then fled in the direction of Kyrgyzstan after freeing a prisoner with suspected extremist ties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). DK

EU foreign ministers adopted a statement in Brussels on 30 January warning the Belarusian government that they are ready to impose sanctions on Belarus if it fails to observe international standards in the 19 March presidential election, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. The statement urges the Belarusian authorities to ensure unimpeded operation of Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) monitors in Belarus, register freely all eligible candidates and allow them equal access to the state-run media, allow all domestic and foreign media to report freely on the electoral process, and implement OSCE electoral recommendations. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the measures against Belarus could include visa restrictions and economic sanctions. JM

EU foreign ministers met with Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich in Brussels on 30 January, RFE/RL reported. Milinkevich also met with EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana, External Relations Commissioner Ferrero-Waldner, and European Parliament President Josep Borrell. None of Milinkevich's meetings in Brussels were open to journalists. Pavel Mazheyka, Milinkevich's spokesman, told Belapan that the politician called on the EU to ease visa formalities for ordinary Belarusians. Moreover, Milinkevich's talks with EU officials reportedly focused on efforts to set up alternative information sources for Belarus. JM

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Oleksandr Baranivskyy told journalists on 30 January that Kyiv may impose a ban on Russian meat and dairy products unless Moscow lifts a similar ban on Ukrainian food exports, Ukrainian and Russian news agencies reported. Russia banned the import of all Ukrainian livestock products earlier this month, claiming that veterinary controls in Ukraine are inadequate (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2006). "Such trade wars do no good and affect producers on both sides. The Ukrainian side still hopes that Russia will revise its decision and the tension will be eased," ITAR-TASS quoted Baranivskyy as saying. Baranivskyy added that Russia's unwillingness to discuss Ukrainian meat imports ban forced him to cancel his planned visit to Moscow on 30 January. JM

Oleg Palchikov, executive director of the Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo, said on the Ukrainian television channel Inter on 30 January that the price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas for Ukraine will remain unchanged only for the first half of 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Thus, Palchikov confirmed critical voices from the Ukrainian opposition asserting that a framework gas agreement concluded by Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Gazprom, and RosUkrEnergo in Moscow on 4 January set the price of gas supplies only for six months, while simultaneously establishing a tariff for Russian gas transit across Ukraine for five years (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 10 January 2006). "This price is clear for us in the first half of 2006," Palchikov said. "In the future it will depend on the price of gas purchased [by RosUkrEnergo] from Central Asia." Kyiv and Moscow have not yet signed an intergovernmental agreement specifying volumes of gas supplies and gas transit to and across Ukraine in 2006. Kyiv is reportedly making this signing contingent on obtaining full information about the shareholders of RosUkrEnergo, which became the monopolist of Russian and Central Asian gas supplies to Ukraine under the 4 January deal. JM

In his farewell speech to Bosnia-Herzegovina on 30 January, outgoing High Representative Paddy Ashdown said the country has made significant progress toward "membership in the Euro-Atlantic family," dpa reported the same day. "It has been a tough journey," Ashdown told the state parliament. He added that he is confident most of the work to put Bosnia "irreversibly on to the road to membership of the Euro-Atlantic family" has proved successful. "My only regret is that [war-crimes fugitives Radovan] Karadzic and [Ratko] Mladic were not arrested. Whatever our successes, this is a failure and the job will not be over until these two primary architects of Bosnia's pain face justice in The Hague," Ashdown added. He also urged Bosnians to take control of their own destiny if they want to join the European Union, Reuters reported. "It is time to make a break with the past and leave behind the international imposition." BW

The incoming high representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Christian Schwarz-Schilling, said on 30 January that his first goal in office will be to help Sarajevo conclude a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with the European Union by the end of this year, dpa reported the same day. "My role in the SAA negotiations will be to advise both sides during the negotiations," Schwarz-Schilling said. The German diplomat, who takes over for Ashdown on 31 January, said he also hopes to help Bosnia enter NATO's Partnership for Peace program and eventually the alliance itself. "I am here to help in making a normal European state. It is difficult, but possible to achieve that," he said. Schwarz-Schilling added, however, that Bosnians need to learn to rely more on local authorities and less on the international community. BW

Kosovar Serb leader Marko Jaksic said on 30 January that he is considering leaving the Serbian negotiating team in the province's final-status talks, B92 reported the same day. Jaksic said various statements by Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic -- which he said resemble an endorsement of conditional independence -- are harming Belgrade's negotiating position. Some analysts, however, dismissed Jaksic's threat as a ploy to secure a more important place on Belgrade's negotiating team. "The threat of resigning is a well-known method of our politicians, and Jaksic is through his statements and the help of the public, trying to improve his position within the team," Dusan Janjic, director of the Forum for Ethnic Relations, told B92. BW

The War Crimes Chamber of Belgrade's District Court on 30 January sentenced Milan Bulic to eight years in prison for crimes committed in eastern Croatia, Hina reported the same day. Bulic was convicted of abusing Croatian prisoners of war held on the Ovcara farm near Vukovic in 1991. Bulic did not attend his sentencing hearing due to poor health. In December, the court sentenced 14 Serbian paramilitary fighters to between five and 20 years in prison for executing Croatian prisoners at Ovcara in November 1991 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 14 December 2005). BW

The human rights group Amnesty International on 30 January accused Serbian authorities of failing to investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment of prisoners rounded up after Prime Minister Zoran Djindjic's 2003 assassination, B92 reported the same day. In a sweep known as Operation Sabre, Serbian law enforcement detained an estimated 10,000 people. In a November 2004 report, the United Nations accused Belgrade of violating several articles of the UN Convention Against Torture in the operation. BW

The attorney for the engineer of a passenger train that derailed near Podgorica has appealed to have his client released from pretrial detention, Beta and B92 reported on 30 January. A judge has ruled that the engineer, Slobodan Drobnjak, be held for one month pending an investigation into criminal charges that he endangered the lives of his passengers. Goran Rodic, Drobnjak's lawyer, said there was no possibility that his client will flee since he just underwent surgery and is still undergoing treatment. There are various accounts of what caused the 23 January derailment that killed 45 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 January 2006). B92 on 30 January quoted the daily newspaper "Vijesti" as reporting that Drobnjak had alcohol in his blood while operating the train. Meanwhile, Drobnjak's second attorney, Dragan Vujovic, said witnesses are prepared to testify that they tried to pull the manual brake in the back of the train, but that it did not work, B92 reported. BW

The Democratic League of Kosova (LDK), the largest party in the province, nominated 54-year-old law professor Fatmir Sejdiu as president on 30 January, international news agencies reported the same day. The unanimous vote came following pressure from Western powers to replace late President Ibrahim Rugova. The LDK's main coalition partner, the Alliance for the Future of Kosovo (AAK), said it has no objection to Sejdiu, Reuters reported. "As coalition partner, the AAK supports the LDK's candidate," AAK official Ardian Gjini said. Kosova's parliament could meet as early as next week to vote on the nomination. BW

Vladimir Voronin said on 30 January that he hopes relations with Russia will improve in 2006 after the difficult period they went through last year, Interfax reported the same day. In a statement released by the presidential press service, Voronin said he hopes that "warmth and mutual confidence in relations with Russia will be restored in 2006," adding that the "strategic partnership with Russia defines the future of our country." Voronin also said he appreciates "U.S. support for Moldovan democracy and territorial integrity" and progress in relations with both Ukraine and Romania. BW

For millions of Georgians, much of the first month of the New Year was anything but happy. Braving a cutoff in heating supplies after deliveries of natural gas from Russia were disrupted by explosions that shut down the main pipeline, the Georgian population struggled for two weeks to endure a severe energy crisis amid record cold temperatures and heavy snowfalls.

The crisis was precipitated by twin blasts that heavily damaged the main Mozdok-Tbilisi gas pipeline on 22 January, cutting off gas supplies to Georgia and Armenia. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili both implicitly blamed the explosions on Russia. The crisis deepened over the next few days after damage to a gas-compressor station on the Russian side of the Azerbaijani-Russian border reduced emergency supplies of gas from Azerbaijan and high winds and snow incapacitated a high-voltage power line in eastern Georgia.

The short-lived, yet profound, energy crisis has demonstrated the fundamental vulnerability of the Georgian state, especially in the face of Russian pressure and intimidation, raising stark questions about Georgian security in general, and energy security in particular.

Despite being somewhat obscured by the larger clash between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas, the Georgian crisis also holds geopolitical implications for regional security and stability. Of particular concern is Russia's leveraging of energy as a tool of influence. For Georgia, however, the key question is much less theoretical, and much more immediate, and focuses squarely on two related aspects of national security.

The first lesson to be drawn from the energy crisis is that the Georgian concept of energy security has been seriously hampered by a mistaken emphasis. To date, Georgian energy security has been defined by a focus on pipeline security, with too little attention devoted to seeking energy diversification, promoting greater self-sufficiency, and pursuing alternative suppliers. Although these strategic needs were clearly articulated in the recently unveiled National Security Concept of Georgia, action has been put off as officials await the completion of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzerum gas pipeline.

The second factor, the most important consideration for national security, stems from the highly unsatisfactory state of Georgian military reform. There is a profound disparity between the upbeat declarations of the Georgian government and the desolation of the Georgian military. Georgia's pursuit of NATO membership, for example, may be seen more as a delusion of grandeur than a realistic goal.

Officially, the Georgian leadership is committed to transforming its armed forces in order to better defend the country, participate in coalition operations, and make Georgia a viable candidate for NATO membership. To achieve this, Tbilisi has taken some steps toward structural reform and to adopt Western and NATO operational principles, most notably seen in the effort to consolidate civilian control of the military, introduce budgetary efficiency and transparency, and improve financial management.

The current state of the Georgian armed forces still falls far short of the minimum NATO requirements, however. First, the overall reform effort has been uneven. Some senior military leaders have openly opposed it, and reluctance and resistance within the Defense and National Security ministries is widespread. This has been matched by a serious lack of policies to guide the day-to-day activities of the military and mid- and long-term plans to shape and then build the Georgian armed forces.

Second, there are still basic problems with all three branches of the Georgian armed forces. The Georgian Army's doctrine comprises a contradictory combination of U.S. and Soviet military doctrine, with little or no effort to adopt Western doctrine above the level of battalion. To make matters worse, the army has rejected external training programs aimed at closing this gap.

True, there has been some progress to date, as the Georgian army now employs a mix of conscript and professional (contract) soldiers, with the 1st and 2nd brigades comprised of professional soldiers, and the 3rd and 4th brigades (created during the integration of the Interior Ministry forces) made up of conscript soldiers. But serious problems with army equipment and maintenance remain unaddressed, and acquisition planning is still deficient.

The much smaller Georgian air force, despite a consistently small budget, has seen some improvement since 2000, with an increase in the number of its SU-25 combat aircraft from seven to nine and the planned procurement of three new air-surveillance radars later this year. But overall, the Georgian air force is still only capable of providing limited air support to the land forces and basic casualty evacuation and search and rescue operations. The air force is further hindered by a complete reliance on Soviet doctrine and Soviet-style organization, shortages of support equipment, and a dependence on the Tbilisi International Airfield as the sole location able to accommodate larger military transportation needs.

The Georgian navy, in many ways the most inferior component of the armed forces, has no clear mission or operational doctrine, and lacks the most basic resources necessary to maintain seaworthy ships or conduct training missions. The navy is clearly the lowest priority for Georgian defense, in terms of policy, financial support, equipment and facilities.

In contrast, the Georgian coast guard, which is part of the Border Guard Department and, therefore, subordinate to the Interior Ministry, is the most effective and impressive force in Georgia today. Responsible for border security, the coast guard polices Georgia's 286 kilometers of coastline, manages the 12 nautical miles of territorial water and the 12 nautical miles contiguous zone, and secures the country's two principal ports, Poti and Batumi, as well as a third port currently under construction just north of Poti.

The limited success to date of Georgian defense reform suggests that the country's strategic orientation toward Europe and the military relationship with the West, mainly through NATO and the United States, has not yielded the hoped-for results. Yet, there is an interesting paradox in that Georgia's path toward NATO membership is dictated by short-term gain rather than longer-term sacrifice, insofar as Georgia is opportunistically exaggerating its vulnerability to Russian pressure in a bid to persuade NATO and the West that it is in their interests to intensify strategic cooperation.

Thus, it is the process of reforming and building the Georgian military, not its eventual success or NATO membership, that is paramount for the present Georgian government because doing so will not only strengthen the central state, but enhance its options for resolving the inherently political problems of the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts by military means. Restoring Georgian control over those breakaway regions would deprive Russia of a permanent source of leverage on Georgia comparable to the stranglehold Russia has had to date over Georgian gas supplies.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told participants in a two-day London conference devoted to the future of Afghanistan that opened on 31 January that their administrations are committed to that country's long-term health, international agencies reported. Afghan President Hamid Karzai then hailed a "new chapter" in his country's history and predicted that efforts will focus increasingly on improving the country for its roughly 30 million inhabitants. Rice announced that the United States plans to give Afghanistan $1.1 billion in additional aid next year. Karzai noted that it is time for a "new chapter" that is focused more specifically on the needs of Afghans. "Four years ago, the Bonn agreement presented us with a formidable set of objectives," Karzai said. "Today, I am pleased that we successfully conclude the Bonn Process and open a new chapter of Afghanistan's rebuilding and partnership with the international community.... in spite of the achievements, we have a long road ahead and significant challenges to overcome. We have reestablished our institutions of governance and justice. But these need to develop to serve the interests of the Afghan people." AH/PB

Russian Deputy Finance Minister Sergei Storchak said on 30 January that Russia is ready to forgive Afghanistan's Soviet-era debt, estimated at $10 billion, if Kabul officially recognizes the debt and renounces any claims for reparations or compensation for Soviet occupation of the country from 1979-89, Interfax and AP reported. Storchak said that Afghanistan borrowed funds from the Soviet Union but has not recognized the debt nor made any repayments. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up a pro-Moscow communist regime. Storchak was speaking on arrival in London on the eve of the international conference on the future development of Afghanistan. PB

Eight people were wounded on 30 January when a bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan, AFP reported. "Coalition forces evacuated six Afghan National Police officers and two civilians wounded by an improvised explosive device in Kandahar Province today for treatment," coalition spokesman Lieutenant Mike Cody said. Two of the wounded Afghan police were in critical condition after the attack, for which a neo-Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility. MK

Security forces blocked three bombings in separate incidents around Afghanistan, AP reported on 30 January. Two roadside bombs were found in a ditch about 300 meters from the U.S. Embassy and defused. In the Kandahar area, a suspected suicide bomber driving a minibus full of explosives was stopped and arrested as he drove near a U.S. air base. Afghan security officials stopped the minibus about 1 kilometer from the main U.S. base in the Kandahar area after getting a tip that a suspected neo-Taliban operative was behind the wheel. The minibus was carrying more than 55 kilograms of explosives, drums of gasoline, and gas canisters. "This is a massive bomb. It could have killed dozens of people," said Mohammad Fazel, an Afghan army officer. MR

U.S. military officials have sentenced a second soldier to prison for abusing Afghan detainees, AFP reported on 30 January. Kevin Myricks was sentenced to six months in prison and a demotion to private for punching Afghan detainees. The same military court at Bagram air field, the main U.S. base in Afghanistan, last week sentenced James Hayes to four months in prison for punching Afghan detainees held by U.S. forces in southern Afghanistan in July. Both men will serve their sentences at a U.S. military facility in Kuwait. "Incidents of this nature are not reflective of the standards adhered to by this command," coalition commander Major General Jason Kamiya said. "We are fully committed to investigating all allegations of detainee mistreatment and will hold accountable those who are found to have acted inappropriately." MR

Afghan officials visiting The Hague called on the Netherlands to contribute troops for NATO's planned expansion of activities in southern Afghanistan, AP reported on 30 January. Dutch policymakers have wavered over their December decision to send up to 1,400 troops as part of an expanded NATO force in Afghanistan, where U.S. troops are withdrawing as the neo-Taliban insurgency is picking up. Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, addressing the Dutch parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said Afghanistan is making progress in terms of stability but still needs help. "You should be proud of your contribution because it is a success story," said Abdullah, who pleaded for further Dutch support of NATO operations. "But the story is not over." Abdullah stopped in The Hague on his way to London's two-day donor conference on Afghanistan. MR

Iranian Ambassador to Beirut Masud Edrisi on 30 January dismissed allegations of Iranian interference in Lebanon by Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, who heads the Progressive Socialist Party, Radio Farda reported. Jumblatt visited Iran in April 2005; since December, he has been vocal in condemning Iran's role in his country's affairs and alleging that Hizballah is an Iranian cat's paw (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," 3 May 2005 and 23 January 2006). In an interview that appears in the 30 January "The Daily Star," Jumblatt asserts that Lebanon is a hostage in "deals that start in Lebanon and end in Tehran at the expense of our ambitions for freedom." He goes on to say that the invasion of Iraq made Iran more powerful than before, and that Lebanon is the weakest link in an alliance stretching "from Iran to Syria to Lebanon." As for Hizballah's defending Iran by citing the country's role in ending the Israeli occupation, Jumblatt said, "That is enough." Edrisi said Iran adheres to its principles in its relations with Lebanon, and support for Hizballah is one of those principles, Radio Farda reported. Edrisi described backing Hizballah as support for Lebanese resistance against the United States and Israel. He added that Syria and Iran are united against Washington and Tel Aviv. BS

Iran's former president, Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, sent a congratulatory message to Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mishaal on that group's recent electoral victory, IRNA reported. Khatami said the pro-reform Militant Clerics Association (Majma-yi Ruhaniyun-i Mobarez), the central council of which he heads, is also pleased with the outcome of the Palestinian elections. Meanwhile an article the same day by Abd al-Bari Atwan, editor-in-chief of the Arabic "Al-Qods al-Arabi," says the U.S. threat to end its financial support for the Palestinian Authority is "the worst kind of political blackmail." An aid cutoff could create problems in delivering services to the Palestinians, the article continues, adding that there are alternatives. "These might be Iran, which wants to plant a stronger foot in Palestine against the U.S. threats," Atwan adds. He explains why Iran is preferred: "We say Iran since we realize that the Arab regimes will not rush to help Hamas financially because they are disappointed by its victory first and because they follow Washington's orders second." BS

Supreme National Security Council official Javid Vaidi, who represented Iran in 30 January nuclear negotiations with the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom), announced afterward that he is happy with their outcome, IRNA reported. French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Brussels on 30 January that the talks produced "nothing new," AFP reported. Douste-Blazy added, "The negotiating process has reached an impasse and the involvement of the [UN] Security Council is needed to ensure that the requests -- many times repeated -- of the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA] are respected," Reuters reported. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Iran offered "no new proposals," dpa reported. Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, speaking on behalf of the rotating EU Presidency, said on 30 January in Brussels, "We are gravely concerned by the decision of Iran to resume enrichment-related activities and call upon Iran to reinstate the [IAEA] seals [on uranium-enrichment equipment] and to reestablish a full, sustained, and verifiable suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities," RFE/RL reported. An EU statement said that the bloc is looking ahead to the meeting on 2 February of the IAEA's governing board, dpa reported. Before the meeting in Brussels began on 30 January, EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana said, "The position of Iran has to change. They know how to change, they know what they have to change," RFE/RL reported. BS

Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said on 30 January in London that he is pleased with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's admission that "European countries had adopted some wrong stances in their interaction with Iran," state television reported. Mottaki expressed the hope that "those policies," although he did not specify what they might be, would be rectified. In a 28 January statement in Davos, Switzerland, Straw said Iran is not likely to avoid a Security Council referral, Reuters reported. Foreign Ministers of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), plus Germany, met in London on the evening of 30 January to discuss the Iranian nuclear case. BS

Al-Jazeera television aired a new videotape dated 28 January of kidnapped U.S. journalist Jill Carroll on 30 January. The videotape shows Carroll pleading with her family, colleagues, and the American people to push the U.S. and Iraqi militaries to release all female detainees in Iraq, according to Al-Jazeera. She was wearing an Islamic headscarf and could be seen sobbing in the videotape; her voice was barely audible. The journalist's kidnappers, identified as the Vengeance Brigades, have demanded the release of female detainees in exchange for Carroll's release. While the U.S. military released five female detainees on 26 January (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2006), U.S. military spokesman Barry Johnson told Reuters that the United States "will not make concessions to terrorist demands," the news agency reported on 31 January. KR

Najm al-Din Hasan Ahmad, the official spokesman of the Al-Sulaymaniyah High Committee for Combating Avian Flu, told Al-Jazeera television in a 30 January interview that a second person has died from bird flu (avian influenza). The second victim is the uncle of the 15-year-old girl who died from the virus earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 January 2006). Ahmad said a third person is being treated for the virus. Asked if the Kurdistan Regional Government has sufficient resources to combat the spread of the disease, he said, "The local governorate, supported by the World Health Organization and the [Iraqi] Agriculture and Health ministries, has taken all the necessary precautions to prevent an outbreak and any further human or bird infections." Ahmad said that Iraqi officials anticipated the arrival of bird flu to the area after widespread reports of the virus in Turkey. He said that the two victims died after exposure to household birds, not wild birds. KR

In a statement posted to on 30 January, the Mujahedin Shura Council denied reports that some Iraqi tribes in the volatile Al-Anbar Governorate have turned against foreign fighters based there. The statement claims "many" Iraqi tribes are at the core of the jihad, providing lodging and support, and sacrificing their children to the cause. "Amongst these the Al-Karabilah tribe that offered the best of its children," the statement noted. "One of the small agents of the Crusaders, who claims to belong to the honorable Al-Karabilah tribe, made statements that were later reported by the media...claiming hundreds of mujahedin were arrested in Al-Anbar Governorate.... We challenge this." The statement called on those who claim that foreign fighters have been driven from Al-Anbar to go there and see for themselves. The statement also called on the "brothers in jihad" (a reference to Sunni Arab groups) to clarify their positions on the political process and disassociate their groups from the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Meanwhile, the Ahl Al-Sunnah wa Al-Jama'ah Army announced in a 28 January statement posted to the same website that it has joined forces with the Mujahedin Shura Council (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 January 2006). KR

A 30 January Internet statement ( attributed to Muhammad's Army in Iraq claimed that the group has not entered into negotiations with U.S. forces (see "RFE/RL Iraq Report," 27 January 2006). The statement said that reports of U.S. talks with insurgent groups are part of a U.S. effort to seek an "honorable withdrawal" of U.S. forces from Iraq. Saying the United States was misled before the war by some who promised Iraqis would welcome the occupation, the statement added, "Instead, the Iraqi people started putting thousands of bullets in the foreheads of everyone who thinks of violating the land of the prophets and the sacred places." The group vowed to "continue on the path of jihad," adding: "We will do everything possible to liberate Iraq from the conquerors and all those who sold their self and country to the occupiers. There will be no negotiations with anyone who conquered our country, killed our people, and violated our dignity. Should there be a meeting place between them and us, it will be on the battlefield and in the war zone." KR

The "RFE/RL Newsline" End Note of 30 January, "Iranian Nuclear Crisis To Feature In Two European Gatherings," incorrectly stated that Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki was in Bahrain on 28 January. In fact, his comments came at a joint press conference in Tehran with the Bahraini foreign minister, Sheikh Khalifa Bin-Ahmad al-Khalifa.