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Newsline - February 6, 2006


RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WANTS UN TO LEAD ANTITERROR FRONT...
Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov told an international security conference in Munich on 5 February that there is an urgent need for an international front against international terrorism under the aegis of the United Nations, RFE/RL reported. Ivanov said such an organization should press the international community and individual countries to remove loopholes in international law and domestic legislation that allow terrorists and their allies to operate. He said the UN should also eliminate what he called double standards in evaluating the terrorist threat, arguing that attacks on military forces in Iraq are defined as terrorism while similar actions by militants in Russia are frequently presented as a struggle by the Chechen people for freedom and independence. Ivanov also criticized Western governments for delaying ratification of the Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe. Western countries are reluctant to ratify the treaty until Russia withdraws all its military forces from Georgia and Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. PM

...WHILE BEING VAGUE ON NATO...
Defense Minister Ivanov said in Munich on 5 February that Russia has no plans to join NATO at present, Interfax reported. "Russia is not thinking about applying for NATO membership.... [Russia is] a Eurasian state, which develops relations with China, India, Korea, and other countries in that region," he noted. Ivanov argued that future relations between his country and the Atlantic alliance, if it expands further to the east, "will depend on the future image of NATO. If the alliance remains a purely military organization, it will pose a certain threat to Russia." PM

...AND CALLING FOR TALKS WITH IRAN
Russia continues to favor a diplomatic approach to dealing with Iran, Defense Minister Ivanov said in Munich on 5 February, arguing that "nothing beats the IAEA mechanism," Russian news agencies reported. He argued that it nonetheless would be "a very bad sign" if international inspectors were expelled from the country. "Iran is our neighbor, and we are not interested in aggravating the situation in that region, which is already explosive," Ivanov stressed. When asked by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" whether he agrees with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's observation that Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorism, Ivanov replied that this is a matter for debate. He argued that it was not Iranian nationals who carried out the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and that Iran does not sponsor "terrorist activities" in Chechnya, as some other, unnamed countries in the Middle and Near East do. Meanwhile, unnamed sources close to Russian-Iranian negotiations told Interfax in Moscow that Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko will visit Iran in late February. An Iranian delegation is expected in Moscow on February 16 to discuss Russia's uranium-enrichment proposal. PM

IVANOV PRAISES LUKASHENKA...
Defense Minister Ivanov said in Munich on 5 February that he has no doubt that Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenka will win reelection in the upcoming vote, Interfax reported. "Does anybody doubt...that [Lukashenka] is the most popular candidate for president in Belarus? This is a fact, like it or not. I am convinced that he will win." Asked if unrest is a possibility in connection with the Belarusian vote, Ivanov replied: "We should do all we can so that this does not happen. This is important." He added that Russia "will react negatively, of course," in case of unrest. PM

...AND COMPARES DEMOCRACY TO POTATOES
According to a statement by Defense Minister Ivanov in Munich on 5 February, Russia supports the emergence of nongovernmental organizations on its territory, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2006). He disagreed with a remark by U.S. Senator John McCain (Republican, Arizona) that Russia is seeking to export authoritarianism. "I wonder where and why we should do that? We have long stopped exporting ideological postulates, and we are not exporting democracy, either. This is a pointless attempt. Democracy is not a potato that grows wherever you plant it," Ivanov stressed. PM

LEADING U.S. SENATOR SAYS PUTIN UNDERMINES DEMOCRACY
Senator McCain told the Munich security conference on 4 February that "under [President Vladimir] Putin, Russia today is neither a democracy nor one of the world's leading economies, and I seriously question whether the [Group of Eight] leaders should attend the [upcoming] St. Petersburg summit," mosnews.com reported. McCain argued that "the Kremlin...continues to pursue foreign and domestic policies strongly at odds with our interests and values." He noted that Russia's "broadcast media are Kremlin-controlled, as are the parliament, the provincial governors, and the judiciary. All of these were free and independent when...Putin took office." PM

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL BLASTS 'ARMY OF CRIMINALS'
Russian Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov told a Moscow audience of prosecutors, which included President Putin, on 3 February that the police cover up a huge number of crimes and that the military is an "army of criminals," "The Moscow Times" and lenta.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2006). He said that police covered up 700 murders, 1,500 assaults, and 80,000 property-related crimes in 2005 and are not deterred from doing so by threat of imprisonment. Turning to the military, Ustinov charged that the number of officers who committed crimes in 2005 is enough to form two regiments and that thefts alone were worth a total of $60 million, or "enough to buy three dozen modern tanks." About 16,000 military personnel were charged with a variety of crimes, including 100 senior commanders and eight generals or admirals. The authorities punished 550 officers for beating their subordinates. Ustinov said that the Federal Drug Control Service has 40,000 employees but investigated only about one-third of drug-related crimes and left the rest to other agencies. After the speech, some critics charged that Ustinov is tough on the performance of other ministries and agencies but less so regarding his own. PM

DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS HIS MINISTRY WILL CONTROL ANY MILITARY POLICE
Defense Minister Ivanov said in Munich on 3 February that any future military police force will be subordinated to his ministry, Interfax reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2006). "Any military police in any country of the world has been created inside its Defense Ministry and is subjected to someone in the Defense Ministry. And we will have it only within the Defense Ministry," he stressed. PM

IS GAZPROM PLANNING NEW BLACK SEA PIPELINE?
Gazprom chief executive Aleksei Miller said in Ankara on 3 February that he wants to build a new pipeline across the Black Sea, which would run parallel to the existing Blue Stream pipeline, to deliver gas to Turkey in the wake of the recent gas dispute with Ukraine, RIA Novosti reported. The pipeline would also deliver gas to Italy, Greece, and Israel via Turkey. Also on Miller's agenda was a project to build a pipeline from Turkey's Samsun on the Black Sea to Ceyhan on the Mediterranean to deliver Russian oil to world markets. "We also discussed investment in the Turkish energy sector, in particular, the construction of gas-storage facilities and a gas-distribution network," Miller noted. A team of experts will hold a follow-up meeting on 15 April. PM

MINISTER SAYS U.S. COMPANIES WILLING TO OPERATE IN RUSSIAN ZONES
Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref said in Bangalore, India, on 5 February that unnamed major foreign companies, mainly from the United States, have expressed an interest in operating in Russia's special economic zones, RIA Novosti reported. He declined to name the firms, but noted that they produce telecommunications equipment, microelectronics, and computer technology. Gref added that it would be impossible to bring such U.S. companies to Russia without the zones. Another member of Gref's delegation said that talks are under way with IBM and Boeing. PM

REPORT HIGHLIGHTS NATIONALIST VIOLENCE
The Sova research center issued a report in Moscow on 3 February saying that extremist violence rose in Russia in 2005, with 28 people killed and 366 injured in a record 179 attacks, "The Moscow Times" reported. Only the figure for killings was down from 2004, when 46 people lost their lives. Galina Kozhevnikova, who wrote the study, said that the most worrying development is that extremist groups are increasingly coordinating their activities and paying more attention to ideology. PM

GORBACHEV ANNOUNCES BOOK ON PERESTROIKA
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev told Interfax in Moscow on 4 February that he will soon publish a book entitled "To Understand Perestroika" to mark the 20th anniversary of that policy. "There remains the problem of understanding perestroika, and it needs to be decided [which political course is right for Russia], because the radical liberal course would be the wrong option for us," he said. PM

CHECHEN PRESIDENT DISMISSES DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER
Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev issued a decree on 5 February, posted on the website chechenpress.org, reorganizing the government of the Chechen Republic Ichkeria. Specifically, Sadullayev stripped Culture Minister Akhmed Zakayev of the post of deputy prime minister to which he was appointed in late August, and dismissed Information and Press Minister Movladi Udugov; Health Minister Umar Khanbiyev; Education and Science Minister Abdul-Vakhab Khusainov; and Social Security Minister Apti Bisultanov. At the same time, Sadullayev named Udugov in a separate decree to the newly created post of director of the National Information Service of the Supreme Council. Over the past two months Zakayev and Udugov have engaged in a polemic over whether the Chechen resistance should observe international law or Islamic law in its war against the Russian occupation. LF

HUMAN RIGHTS CAMPAIGNER RECEIVES SUSPENDED SENTENCE FOR REPORTING ON CHECHNYA
A court in Nizhny Novgorod handed down a two year suspended sentence on 3 February to Stanislav Dmitriyevsky, director of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, on charges of fomenting interethnic enmity, RFE/RL reported. Specifically, Dmitriyevsky was found guilty of having published in the society's newspaper statements made in 2004 by Zakayev and then Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov criticizing President Putin's Chechen policy and calling for a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Dmitriyevsky said the verdict was politically motivated, and vowed to appeal it first in the regional court, and then if necessary in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. LF

OUTGOING ARMENIAN OMBUDSMAN NOT PERMITTED TO REPORT TO PARLIAMENT
Larisa Alaverdian, who was constrained to step down in late December 2005 from the post of human rights ombudsman, was not permitted on 3 February to present to the Armenian parliament a report on her office's activities in 2005, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6, 11, and 13 January 2006). Under Armenian law, the ombudsman is required to present such a report during the first three months of the year. But a spokesman for parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian explained that Alaverdian's successor, who is to be elected this week, will submit the report for 2005. Alaverdian said on 3 February she will make public her own report. She said that "to put it mildly," no increase has been registered in the level of civil rights protection in Armenia." LF

AZERBAIJANI VILLAGERS DEMAND MEETING WITH PRESIDENT
Several hundred residents of the village of Nardaran on the outskirts of Baku gathered on 3 February to protest the conduct of the official investigation into the 24 January standoff between police and villagers in which two police officers and one villager were killed, zerkalo.az reported on 4 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 and 30 January 2006). The villagers demanded a meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, asking why he does not consider it necessary to visit Nardaran when his father and predecessor Heidar Aliyev traveled to Nakhichevan to meet there with the population of Nehram to discuss the social problems they faced (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 March 2001). LF

AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION PARTY DECIDES TO PARTICIPATE IN REPEAT ELECTIONS
The senior leadership of the opposition Musavat party decided at a special session on 5 February that the party will participate in the repeat voting on 13 May in 10 constituencies where the results of the 6 November parliamentary elections were annulled, day.az reported. In addition, the four Musavat candidates who won election on 6 November will participate in the work of the parliament. Musavat's allies in the Azadliq election bloc, the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party progressive wing and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, have both announced their intention to boycott the 6 May vote, and warned last month that a decision by Musavat to field candidates in that ballot would automatically lead to Azadliq's collapse and an end to its cooperation with Musavat (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," 13 January and 3 February 2006). LF

OSCE ISSUES FINAL ASSESSMENT OF AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS
On 2 February, the OSCE's Organization for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) released its final report on the 6 November 2005 ballot. That report reaffirmed earlier conclusions that the vote did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic reform. It made 30 separate recommendations intended to improve the electoral framework and election-related legislation, and called on the Azerbaijani authorities to curtail interference by local officials into the election process. Presidential administration official Ali Hasanov nonetheless characterized the ODIHR report as confirming that "we managed to hold open, democratic, and transparent elections," day.az reported on 3 February. LF

PRESIDENT APPEALS FOR GEORGIA TO BE ADMITTED TO NATO
Speaking on 3 February at the annual Munich international security conference, President Mikheil Saakashvili appealed for Georgia to be accepted into NATO, an RFE/RL correspondent reported. He said both Georgia and the alliance would gain from Georgia's accession, and that it would expedite a solution to the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. In a 30 January interview with the Turkish newspaper "Milliyet," Saakashvili said he hopes Georgia will join NATO by 2008. Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili told journalists in Munich on 4 February after Saakashvili met with NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer that he is certain Georgia will begin implementing a NATO Membership Action Plan by the end of this year, Civil Georgia reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili told Caucasus Press on 4 February that there are "no political obstacles" to Georgia joining NATO, and that NATO experts will visit Georgia in March to assess the extent to which the country's armed forces conform to NATO standards. Saakashvili met on the sidelines of the Munich conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who expressed support for Georgia's NATO aspirations. LF

GEORGIA QUITS CIS DEFENSE COUNCIL
On 2 February, President Saakashvili signed a decree ending Georgia's participation in the CIS Defense Council on the grounds that Georgia may not simultaneously be a member of two military blocs, Caucasus Press reported. Presidential administration head Giorgi Arveladze told journalists in Tbilisi on 4 February that that move does not mean Georgia has withdrawn from the CIS, Caucasus Press reported. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov commented on 3 February that Georgia's withdrawal from the CIS Defense Council will not in any way affect the security of the CIS, Caucasus Press reported. LF

GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTER ALLEGES PLOT TO KILL PRESIDENT
Defense Minister Okruashvili told the independent television station Rustavi-2 on 3 February that a portable Igla ground-to-air missile discovered in a district close to South Ossetia earlier that day was to be used to down President Saakashvili's helicopter, Civil Georgia reported. Okruashvili added that the Georgian armed forces do not have such weapons, and that the missile was manufactured in Russia, whence it was transported to Georgia. But Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said on 3 February that it is not possible to determine the missile's precise target. Civil Georgia quoted Merabishvili as saying some paramilitary groups in South Ossetia have such weapons, and that it should not be difficult to establish its provenance, but according to Caucasus Press, he said that the missile is an old one and the identification number is illegible. Also on 3 February, Major General Mikhail Mindzaev, who is the unrecognized Republic of South Ossetia's interior minister, denied any South Ossetian connection with the Igla missile, regnum.ru reported. Mindzaev suggested that Georgia acquired the missile during its ongoing arms-buying spree and planted it near the South Ossetian conflict zone in an attempt to incriminate South Ossetia. LF

SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER MEETS WITH RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity met in Moscow on 3 February with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry website (http://www.mid.ru/brp_4.nsf/sps/1A0221560CCF070DC32571090060054B). The two men discussed the situation in the South Ossetia conflict zone in the light of what were termed Georgia's "provocative" actions vis-a-vis the Russian peacekeepers deployed there (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 2 February 2006), and the prospects for reaching a peaceful negotiated settlement of the conflict. On 4 February, Georgian Foreign Minister Bezhuashvili condemned Lavrov's meeting with Kokoity as "open support by Russia for a separatist regime," Caucasus Press reported. Bezhuashvili argued that such actions debar Russia from any role in mediating a settlement to the conflict. LF

GEORGIAN, ABKHAZ DELEGATIONS MEET UNDER UN AEGIS
The so-called Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia group of countries (France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia, and the United States) mediated talks in Geneva on 2-3 February between Georgian and Abkhaz government delegations, Caucasus Press reported. The UN representatives impressed on the two conflict sides "the urgent need for tangible results" in the peace process. They also affirmed that in addition to continuing work on confidence-building measures, including finalizing a formal document on the nonresumption of hostilities and creating conditions for the return to Abkhazia of Georgian displaced persons, the two sides should also address "core political issues of the conflict," meaning Abkhazia's status within Georgia. In a 20 January letter to the UN Security Council, Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh affirmed his willingness to discuss any issues except that of Abkhazia's status (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2006). On 3 February, RIA Novosti quoted the head of the Georgian delegation to the Geneva talks, Conflict Resolution Minister Giorgi Khaindrava, as saying Tbilisi will sign an agreement on nonresumption of hostilities only after it receives guarantees from Sukhum(i) that the Georgian displaced persons can return safely to their homes, according to kavkaz.memo.ru as cited by kavkazweb.net. LF

GEORGIAN OPPOSITION CAMPAIGNS FOR ELECTED TBILISI MAYOR
The opposition People's Forum headed by Akaki Asatiani, who served as parliament speaker in 1990-1991 under Zviad Gamsakhurdia, has submitted to parliament 75,000 signatures collected in support of its demand that a referendum be held on making the post of Tbilisi mayor an elective office, Caucasus Press reported on 3 February. At present the mayor of Tbilisi is appointed by the president. Asatiani said that if the parliament refuses to give the green light for such a referendum, opposition parties will organize an unofficial one on the issue. LF

U.S. FORCES TO TAKE PART IN KAZAKH-BRITISH MILITARY EXERCISES
U.S. forces will participate in the Kazakh-British Steppe Eagle military exercises in Kazakhstan in September, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported on 3 February, citing Kazakhstan's Defense Ministry. The report stated that U.S. forces will be involved in the command component of the counterterrorism exercises. Previously, U.S. forces have taken part in the war games as observers. DK

KAZAKH SECURITY FORCES PLAN TO EXPAND TERRORIST LIST
Kazakhstan's National Security Committee (KNB) plans to add Aum Shinrikyo to the country's list of banned terror groups, Khabar reported on 3 February. An Aum Shinrikyo attack on the Tokyo subway in 1995 killed 12 people. KNB Deputy Chairman Vladimir Bozhko said that the Mujahedin of Central Asia Group might also be included. "At our initiative, in conjunction with the Prosecutor-General's Office and judicial authorities, the activities of 11 international terrorist organizations have been banned, including the religious-political party Hizb ut-Tahrir," Bozhko noted. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT SLAMS PARLIAMENT IN ADDRESS
In a 3 February address before parliament, President Kurmanbek Bakiev harshly criticized the legislature for fomenting political instability, Kabar reported. Noting that he opposed the dissolution of parliament after disputed elections in spring 2005, Bakiev described parliament's current relations with the executive as a "confrontation." He blamed parliament for advancing untimely constitutional-reform demands, asking, "Can one imagine anything less reasonable and more harmful for the country in such a complex and unstable period?" Bakiev charged that the legislature is "turning into a place for political squabbling, giving rise to an atmosphere of instability in the country. In my meetings in the provinces, I have to answer the question: Why does parliament prevent the president and government from working, and why don't you dissolve it?" Bakiev also blamed lawmakers for "sabotaging" the government's privatization program. Charging that parliament is going beyond its mandate, Bakiev asked, "Are you trying to seize power?" He also criticized deputies for raising their own salaries and securing apartments for themselves. In closing, Bakiev called on deputies to work constructively with him over the next four years. DK

KYRGYZ PRESIDENT REBUKES BRITISH MINING COMPANY IN OPEN LETTER
President Bakiev has responded with a public rebuke to a British mining company after a private letter from British Prime Minister Tony Blair urging Kyrgyz authorities to resolve a licensing dispute, "The Times" reported on 3 February. Oxus Gold was stripped of its license to develop the Jerooy mine in Kyrgyzstan in 2004. Blair had written privately to Bakiev to urge a resolution of the matter, noting that Oxus raised $60 million for Jerooy and warning that the loss of its license presents "a real danger of damage to Kyrgyzstan's reputation in the international financial markets," "The Independent" reported. Bakiev responded publicly, saying, "Based on Oxus's irresponsible and unlawful behavior, we have no confidence that they and their subsidiary will meet their contractually mandated obligations to our government," "The Times" reported. Oxus shares fell 17 percent in London on 3 February on news of Bakiev's letter, "The Independent" reported. DK

TAJIKISTAN CONDEMNS DANISH CARICATURES OF MUHAMMAD
Tajik Foreign Ministry spokesman Igor Sattorov told journalists in a briefing on 3 February that his ministry condemns the publication of caricatures of Muhammad in European newspapers, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. "This offensive and provocative act completely contradicts universally recognized norms of morals and ethics, and it fails to serve the interests of establishing good relations between nations and of facilitating the dialogue of civilizations," Avesta quoted Sattorov as saying. "Tajikistan, where Muslims make up the majority of the population, consistently supports mutual respect of sacred objects and condemns this repulsive act in the strongest terms and once again stresses that no single goal, neither political nor ideological, gives the right to insult the highest human values and sacred feelings of people." DK

TURKMENISTAN CRITICIZES RUSSIAN REPORTS ON PENSIONS
The Turkmen Foreign Ministry has issued a statement calling Russian media reports on pension reductions in Turkmenistan "false and fabricated," turkmenistan.ru reported on 4 February. Those reports indicated that pension reductions are causing panic in Turkmenistan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2006). Specifically referring to reports by Interfax and "Vremya novostei," the ministry charged that the media outlets "have, in defiance of the universally accepted norms of journalistic etiquette, been producing direct provocations and openly twisting facts." The statement concluded, "The Turkmen side sees the dissemination of deliberately perverted information on social security in Turkmenistan as an unfriendly act toward our country and demands an official refutation." On 3 February, state-run Russian television also featured a report with "shocking news" from Turkmenistan, stating that thousands could be left "without the basic means of existence" and linking the reductions to Turkmenistan's "grossly inefficient raw-materials economy" combined with a "wasteful policy of creating a showcase of Turkmen life." DK

BELARUS'S 74,000 ELECTION COMMISSION MEMBERS INCLUDE TWO OPPOSITION REPRESENTATIVES
Belarusian authorities have selected 74,107 people for 6,586 precinct election commissions for the 19 March presidential vote, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported on 3 February. Belarusian opposition parties, which proposed more than 1,000 candidates for the commissions, obtained just two seats: one for the United Civic Party (AHP) and the other for the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada). "A blatant, mass falsification [of the vote] is being prepared," AHP leader Anatol Lyabedzka told RFE/RL. "If the authorities had been confident even of 50 percent about their strength, they would at least have made an appearance of some pluralism. It is another confirmation...that there will be no election, that a falsification is under way." JM

BELARUS SAID TO BLOCK U.S.-EU VISIT
A high-level visit to Belarus by U.S. and EU officials has been cancelled after Belarusian authorities failed to issue visas, Reuters reported on 3 February. The officials -- Robert Cooper, director-general for external and political-military affairs at the Council of the European Union, and Dan Fried, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for Europe -- had planned to discuss the 19 March presidential election during the trip. "We are both disappointed by the failure of the Belarusian authorities to take this opportunity to engage in an open and frank dialogue with the international community," the officials said in a statement publicized by State Department spokesman Sean McCormack. Meanwhile, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Papou told journalists on 4 February that Minsk did not refuse visas to Cooper or Fried but only proposed to them to make separate visits, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. "It looks as if the United States has now begun to make decisions for the European Union as well, including on establishing relations with Belarus," Papou added. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PREDICTED TO WIN LANDSLIDE ELECTION VICTORY
The Institute for Social and Political Studies under the Belarusian presidential administration has said 76.7 percent of Belarusians want to reelect President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for a third term, Belapan reported on 5 February. The institute was quoting a poll it held among 1,583 respondents in December 2005. According to the poll, support for any other presidential candidate does not exceed 2 percent. JM

NEWSPAPER SAYS KYIV SIGNED SIX MORE GAS DEALS WITH MOSCOW IN JANUARY
The Kyiv-based weekly "Zerkalo nedeli" wrote in its 4-10 February issue that apart from the well-publicized gas deal with Gazprom and RosUkrEnergo of 4 January, the same day Naftohaz Ukrayiny signed six more accords with either Gazprom or RosUkrEnergo or both companies that have so far remained confidential and will presumably inflict big losses on Ukraine. In particular, Naftohaz Ukrayiny reportedly signed a 25-year deal with RosUkrEnergo on the storage of the latter company's gas in Ukraine for $2.25 per 1,000 cubic meters per year (while Naftohaz Ukrayiny's current storage charge for European gas consumers is $14-$17). Also, Naftohaz Ukrayiny reportedly signed a 25-year deal on gas transit to Europe, under which Gazprom and RosUkrEnergo will pay $1.60 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers (while the average transit charge in Europe is $2.50). JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS CRIMEAN LIGHTHOUSES POSE ECONOMIC, NOT POLITICAL PROBLEM
Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said in Simferopol on 4 February that the use of lighthouses by the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Crimea is an economic issue rather than political, Interfax-Ukraine and ITAR-TASS reported. "If the lighthouses are Ukrainian and the Russians are using them, they must pay for them," Yekhanurov told journalists. According to him, there have been illegal "cottages" erected around some lighthouses used by the Russian Navy in Crimea. Yekhanurov said the use of land in Crimea by the Russian Black Sea Fleet is also an issue of primarily legal and economic importance. He claimed that some 160 hectares of land is used by the Russian fleet illegally. "The position of the Ukrainian side is as follows: You must pay for what you have not paid," Yekhanurov said. "If you don't want to pay, then free it. I don't want the budget to suffer losses." JM

SERBIA ISSUES ARREST WARRANT FOR KARIC
Serbia's Interior Ministry on 4 February issued an arrest warrant for influential businessman Bogoljub Karic after he failed to appear for questioning, Hina and dpa reported the same day. Karic was questioned by Serbia's tax police on 2 February and was scheduled to be questioned again the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 February 2006). Karic did not show up, however, and his attorney, according to dpa, said he had gone abroad to collect documentation for the questioning on companies he either owned or did business with. Karic, the founder of the mobile-telephone operator Mobtel and one of Serbia's richest businessmen, and his brother Sretan Karic have been the subject of various criminal probes (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13, 19, and 24 January and 3 February 2006). BW

MINISTER SAYS SERBIA'S INTERNATIONAL STANDING WILL BE WEAK UNTIL WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS ARRESTED
After meeting in Washington with U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, Serbia and Montenegro's Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said Belgrade's international position will be weak until all war crimes fugitives have been apprehended, B92 reported on 3 February. "The messages were pretty rough, but not unexpected," Draskovic said. "There will be no entrance into the Partnership for Peace and NATO and the EU, and Serbia's movement in the Kosovo status discussions will be dramatically weakened if...fugitives are not extradited to The Hague," Draskovic said, referring to Bosnian Serb wartime leader Radovan Karadzic and General Ratko Mladic. Draskovic said that Burns told him that the fact that the two are still at large represents "shame for Serbia." BW

SERBIA'S AGRICULTURE MINISTRY COMES OUT IN SUPPORT OF FREE-TRADE ZONE
Serbian Deputy Agricultural Minister Goran Zivkov has said he supports an EU initiative to establish a free-trade zone in the Balkans, FoNet and B92 reported on 6 February. "For Serbia, which exports nearly 50 percent of its products throughout the region, this is great news and I sincerely hope that this will become a reality." Zivkov said. He added that Serbia has signed some form of free-trade agreement with all its neighbors, but a multilateral agreement would work better, since bilateral deals can break down more easily and lead to trade wars. Most Croatians are opposed to the EU proposal, fearing it could resurrect the former Yugoslavia. Macedonia, which has expressed similar fears, has given the idea only lukewarm support (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 and 2 February 2006). BW

OPPOSITION LEADER NAMED BOSNIAN SERB PRIME MINISTER
Republika Srpska President Dragan Cavic on 4 February named opposition leader Milorad Dodik prime minister-designate, dpa and Reuters reported the same day. Dodik, who served as Republika Srpska's prime minister from 1998-2001, must be confirmed by parliament within 40 days. If confirmed, he will replace Pero Bukejlovic, whose government lost a vote of confidence in parliament on 26 January over its economic policy. Considered pro-Western by Balkan observers, Dodik heads the Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD). In a joint press conference with Cavic, he said reviewing privatization, fighting organized crime, and economic policy would be his priorities. "I believe that people will feel the difference in this short period that's left before the elections," Dodik said, referring to Bosnia-Herzegovina's general elections scheduled for October. BW

MUSLIM LEADERS IN BALKANS SPEAK OUT AGAINST CARTOONS
Reisu-l-ulema Mustafa Ceric, the leader of Bosnia Herzegovina's Islamic Community, said on 3 February that the publication of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad by some European newspapers is a sign of "Islamophobia," Hina reported the next day. "It is really ugly what kind of messages are being sent these days to Muslims in Europe," he said, adding that Europe should be "treated due to its Islamophobia." Sefko Omerbasic, the head of the Office of the Islamic Community in Croatia, said Muslims all over the world should raise their voice against those who insult their values, but should do in a prudent manner. BW

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SAYS TROOPS WILL STAY IN TRANSDNIESTER
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said on 5 February that Moscow has no plans to withdraw troops stationed in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, dpa reported the same day. "We shall keep them over there because this prevents the resumption of conflict," Ivanov said at the annual Munich Security Conference. Russia has approximately 1,500 troops in Transdniester and has been under pressure from both Chisinau and the international community to pull them out. Ivanov's comments came two days after Russian President Vladimir Putin criticized the state of Russian-Moldovan relations. "The condition and the general vector of development of Russian-Moldovan relations recently can hardly be defined as satisfactory and can hardly satisfy us," Putin said in Moscow on 3 February, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin last month called for improvement in Russian-Moldovan relations after a contentious 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 January 2006). BW

TERMS OF NEW UKRAINIAN GAS DEAL UNCLEAR
Officials in Kyiv announced on 2 February the finalization of a gas deal from January, under which Ukraine is now to receive gas from Russia at $95 per 1,000 cubic meters. According to Kyiv, the price of $95 is to remain unchanged for five years. However, RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-based company that was made the monopolist of gas supplies to Ukraine, signals that this is not quite so.

On 2 February, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, Ukraine's gas transportation company, signed an accord with the Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo in Kyiv on the creation of a joint venture to sell gas in Ukraine. Both companies were obliged to do so by a framework gas agreement of 4 January, under which RosUkrEnergo became the monopolist of gas supplies to Ukraine for the next five years.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov praised the five-year accord as advantageous for Ukraine. But he told journalists that he is also fully aware that the document may be bitterly criticized by his political opponents: "My future political career is not important here. It is important that it will be warm in your apartments tomorrow. In summer you may curse me to your souls' content. But in winter you may find a good word for me."

On 4 January, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, RosUkrEnergo, and Gazprom signed a deal whereby Ukraine is to obtain 34 billion cubic meters of gas in 2006 from Russia for $95 per 1,000 cubic meters -- up from $50 in previous years. The deal also provided for the creation of a joint venture between Naftohaz Ukrayiny and RosUkrEnergo to sell gas in Ukraine and share profits from it.

Critics of the deal said it was valid for only the first six months of the year as regards the gas price for Ukraine, simultaneously pointing out that it set the gas transit tariff for Gazprom for five years. Such critics also slammed the government for making RosUkrEnergo -- a dubious intermediary created by Gazprom -- the monopolist responsible for gas supplies to Ukraine.

On 10 January, Ukraine's parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, passed a no-confidence motion in Yekhanurov's cabinet over the gas deal. Yekhanurov and his ministers, however, have remained in office due to a constitutional reform that took effect on 1 January and effectively prevents the current legislature from appointing a new cabinet.

The joint venture created on 2 February, named UkrGazEnergo, has a charter capital of 5 million hryvnyas ($1 million) with stakes shared evenly between its founders. The same day UkrGazEnergo and RosUkrEnergo signed a contract under which Ukraine is to obtain 34 billion cubic meters of gas in 2006 and some 60 billion cubic meters annually in 2007-2010.

Naftohaz Ukrayiny spokesman Eduard Zanyuk told journalists in Kyiv on 2 February that neither gas storage facilities nor gas pipelines in Ukraine will be included in UkrGazEnergo's charter capital. Zanyuk was thus addressing the common fears in Ukraine that Moscow is using gas price as a weapon to gain control over Ukraine's gas transportation network.

In a no less important statement, Zanyuk announced that the new gas price for Ukraine will remain stable for five years: "Responding to questions from skeptics in Ukrainian political circles, we announce that the gas price defined in this contract is fixed for five years and is $95 for 1,000 cubic meters."

If this is really so, then the new contract represents a major victory for Kyiv, which had initially been promised the price of $95 per 1,000 cubic meters just for the first half of 2006. The victory seems to be even more significant if one takes into account that the gas price for Ukraine is lower than that charged by Gazprom for all other post-Soviet countries except Belarus. For example, Gazprom set the new gas price for Moldova and Georgia at $110 per 1,000 cubic meters.

However, the same day, RosUkrEnergo managers Konstantin Chuichenko and Oleg Palchikov cast doubt on Zanyuk's words. Chuichenko said the price may be changed depending on the price of Russian gas for RosUkrEnergo. In his turn, Palchikov asserted that there is no "price formula" included in the contract, adding that the price for Ukraine will depend on the price of Central Asian gas in the total gas volume supplied to the country.

And Andriy Halushchak, Naftohaz Ukrayiny's representative on the UkrGazEnergo supervisory board, admitted that a change in the gas price may actually take place, but only with the consent of both sides. If there is no such consent, he added, the sides should appeal to court.

Thus, it seems that the deal does not end the gas supply controversy between Kyiv and Moscow and may lead to a renewed row in the longer run, particularly if Turkmenistan, a major gas source for Ukraine, moves to increase its price for RosUkrEnergo.

It should also be expected that the gas supplies will continue to be a topical issue for the opposition in the ongoing parliamentary election campaign in Ukraine. There is still a mystery surrounding the owners of RosUkrEnergo, which came into the global spotlight on 4 January. And this latest gas contract, instead of dispelling this mystery, has added some of its own.

AFGHAN PROTESTS, CONDEMNATIONS CONTINUE OVER CARICATURES OF PROPHET
The Afghan National Assembly passed a unanimous resolution on 4 February calling the recent publication by a Danish and other newspapers of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad a "grave crime and an act of treachery," Pajhwak reported. On 5 February, Afghanistan's chief justice, Mawlawi Fazl Hadi Shinwari, told "Muslims of Afghanistan and the world" that it is "haram [forbidden] to buy Danish products," AIP reported. Shinwari said the Afghan government should break off "diplomatic, trade, economic, and military relations" with Denmark and reject any aid from that country. More than 1,000 protesters in the northern Konduz Province on 4 February demanded the withdrawal of Danish troops and the Danish ambassador from Afghanistan, in addition to shouting slogans condemning Denmark, Israel, and the United States. Nearly 1,000 people turned up on 5 February in Mehtarlam, the provincial capital of the eastern Afghan province of Laghman, to denounce Denmark, AFP reported. One person was killed and four others wounded, including policemen, when police opened fire on stone-throwing protesters on the second day of demonstrations in Mehtarlam on 6 February, international agencies reported. Protesters called on the Afghan government to demand the withdrawal of Danish forces, which are in Afghanistan as part of ISAF. In press release on 2 February, Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the publication of the caricatures, which were initially published by a Danish newspaper and were later reprinted in other European countries, as well as in Malaysia and Australia. AT/AH

SECURITY PERSONNEL, INSURGENTS REPORTED KILLED IN MAJOR CLASH IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Five Afghan government security personnel were killed in a clash in the Sangin district of Helmand Province on 3 February, Kabul-based Tolu Television reported the next day. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Yusof Stanizai called the clashes the most serious armed confrontation in the country so far this year, adding that 20 antigovernment militants were also killed in the fighting, including two "senior" neo-Taliban commanders, Tolu reported. Speaking for the neo-Taliban, Qari Mohammad Yusof on 3 February told Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) that a government commander named "Koka" was killed, but did not elaborate on neo-Taliban casualties. Mullah Tor Jan, one of the neo-Taliban commanders listed as having been killed in the Sangin clashes, purportedly called AIP on 5 February to say that he is alive. Tor Jan vowed to continue his struggle until "Islamic orders are implemented" in Afghanistan. Tor Jan said that the other neo-Taliban commander reportedly killed in the clash, Hajji Nasro, is also alive. AT

DISTRICT CHIEF KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Abdul Qodus, district chief of Musa Qala in Helmand Province, has been killed along with one of his security guards in an attack by insurgents, AFP reported on 4 February. In the neighboring Nawzad district, an Afghan policeman was killed in another attack. AT

NATO WELCOMES DUTCH DECISION TO SEND FORCES TO AFGHANISTAN
NATO on 3 February welcomed the decision by the Dutch parliament to send up to 1,400 additional troops to Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), AFP reported. "Now we can go ahead with the full complement of the expansion" of ISAF to southern Afghanistan, NATO spokesman James Appathurai told AFP. That expansion is expected to take place between June and September, but appeared to be in jeopardy when Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenede faced opposition to Dutch participation from his coalition partners (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," 23 January 2006). AT

TEHRAN LIMITS NUCLEAR COOPERATION...
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board voted on 4 February to report Tehran to the UN Security Council that his country "has stopped all voluntary measures it had undertaken in the past 2 1/2-to-three years," Radio Farda reported. "We have no commitment to the Additional Protocol any more and our activities will continue our peaceful, nuclear activities based on the NPT [Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty]." President Mahmud Ahmadinezhad sent a letter the same day to Atomic Energy Organization of Iran chief Gholamreza Aqazadeh in which he calls for suspension of the country's "voluntary implementation" of the Additional Protocol to the NPT, state television and IRNA reported. However, the letter continues, Iran's cooperation with the IAEA will continue within the framework of the NPT and the Safeguards Agreement, as will the country's peaceful nuclear activities. Legislation passed by the Iranian legislature in November calls for a resumption of all enrichment-related activities should the country be reported to the Security Council. Ahmadinejad said in Tehran on 5 February that he will not permit inspections of military installations, state television reported. Ahmadinejad added that there will be a pro-nuclear rally on 11 February, which coincides with Ashura, the commemoration of Imam Husayn's martyrdom. BS

...AFTER IAEA REPORTS IRAN TO UN SECURITY COUNCIL...
The IAEA governing board decided in a 27-3 vote on 4 February to report Iran to the UN Security Council, international news agencies reported. Cuba, Syria, and Venezuela were the only countries on the 35-member board who opposed the resolution, while Algeria, Belarus, Indonesia, Libya, and South Africa abstained. In order to reassure the international community that its nuclear program is "exclusively peaceful," according to the resolution, Iran should suspend all activities related to uranium enrichment and reprocessing; reconsider building a heavy-water reactor; ratify and implement the Additional Protocol of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and behave until that time as if the protocol were in effect. The resolution also urges Iran to comply with earlier IAEA calls for improved transparency by providing access to individuals, procurement documentation, dual-use equipment, and military workshops. BS

...BUT IMMEDIATE SECURITY COUNCIL ACTION IS UNLIKELY
The Security Council is unlikely to act before March, when the IAEA governing board will meet to discuss the details of how to proceed on the issue. "The Washington Post" on 4 February quoted Western diplomats who said sanctions are not currently being considered. "This sends a further strong message to the Islamic Republic of Iran," Radio Farda quoted the British ambassador to the IAEA in Vienna, Peter Jenkins, as saying on 4 February. "It's a message of concern at developments in Iran since early January, and of continuing lack of confidence in Iran's nuclear intentions." BS

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER CALLS FOR TALKS WITH IRAN
Russia continues to favor a diplomatic approach to dealing with Iran, Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Munich on 5 February, arguing that "nothing beats the IAEA mechanism," Russian news agencies reported. He argued that it nonetheless would be "a very bad sign" if international inspectors were expelled from the country. "Iran is our neighbor, and we are not interested in aggravating the situation in that region, which is already explosive," Ivanov stressed. When asked by the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" whether he agrees with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's observation that Iran is the foremost sponsor of terrorism, Ivanov replied that this is a matter for debate. He argued that it was not Iranian nationals who carried out the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, and that Iran does not sponsor "terrorist activities" in Chechnya, as some other, unnamed countries in the Middle and Near East do. Meanwhile, unnamed sources close to Russian-Iranian negotiations told Interfax in Moscow that Federal Atomic Energy Agency head Sergei Kiriyenko will visit Iran in late February. An Iranian delegation is expected in Moscow on February 16 to discuss Russia's uranium-enrichment proposal. PM

REFORMIST POLITICIAN CRITICIZES IRANIAN PRESIDENT
Hojatoleslam Mohammad Ali Abtahi, who served as vice president for parliamentary affairs under President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, said in an interview in the 23 February issue of "La Repubblica" that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad's foreign policy gaffes are isolating Iran. Abtahi referred to Ahmadinejad's public statements about the Holocaust, asking rhetorically: "Why do we have to talk about the Holocaust? What do we Iranians have to do with the Holocaust? Does doing so improve our country's position?" Abtahi said people will "rapidly lose faith" in Ahmadinejad if economic sanctions are imposed in connection with the nuclear issue. Abtahi also criticized Western powers, saying, "I reproach the United States for understanding nothing about this part of the world: nothing about Iran, nothing about Iraq, and nothing about Afghanistan, as we can see." He added, "And I reproach Europe for having continued to raise the stakes, thus weakening Khatami." BS

IRAQI LAWMAKER SOUGHT OVER CORRUPTION CHARGES
Sunni lawmaker Mish'an al-Juburi has been charged with graft after a government investigation revealed that he and his son embezzled government funds to support the work of fictitious paramilitary forces that were to guard oil pipelines between Baghdad and the northern town of Bayji, home to a crucial refinery, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported on 5 February. Judge Radi al-Radi told reporters on 5 February that al-Juburi, who was reelected to parliament on 15 December, took control of a tribal protection force last year. He allegedly provided lists of between 200 and 300 fictitious recruits and pocketed their salaries, washingtonpost.com reported on 5 February. Through a company formed by one of his sons, he allegedly pocketed about one-fifth of a $102,000-per-month contract to feed the forces. Al-Juburi is also accused of colluding to steal 200 Kalashnikov rifles, by ordering soldiers to transport them by civilian vehicles rather than military vehicles to his battalion. The delivery vehicles were attacked and the weapons stolen. Al-Juburi, who once had strong relations with Saddam Hussein's deceased son Uday, has reportedly fled Iraq, possibly for Syria, where he lived for several years in the 1990s. According to Western media, Iraq has asked Interpol to help find al-Juburi. KR

IRAQI MILITANT GROUP THREATENS ATTACKS ON DANISH NATIONALS
The Islamic Army in Iraq has threatened to attack European countries that published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist, AFP reported on 5 February. Citing an Internet statement, the news agency said the group also threatened to kill Danish nationals by chopping them into pieces. Naming Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Norway, and Spain, the statement calls on "all Muslims to target all enterprises that deal with these countries and all points of sale of products from these countries, mainly Denmark and Norway." Meanwhile, Iraqi Transport Minister Salam al-Maliki announced on 5 February that he has cancelled all contracts between his ministry and the Danish government in protest over the cartoons, Radio Free Iraq reported. KR

U.K. TO REDUCE IRAQI FORCES
The British military will reduce troop levels in Iraq by 2,000 this year, with the first 500 troops, currently stationed in Al-Muthanna Governorate, leaving in the spring, London's "The Independent on Sunday" reported on 5 February. The decision reportedly reflects a need to funnel more troops to Afghanistan. The drawdown will come following provincial elections, expected some six weeks after the incoming government takes office. According to the newspaper, a meeting of defense chiefs is expected in March to consider troop deployments. A separate report in "The Independent on Sunday" on 5 February said that the United States has approved the withdrawal "in principle." KR

AUSTRALIAN TROOPS IN IRAQ MAY STAY, JAPANESE TO WITHDRAW
Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that Australia has not issued a decision on the status of its troops in Iraq, theaustralian.news.com.au reported on 6 February. "We need to just think this through. One of the key issues is the setting up of the new Iraqi government" after the elections, he said. "Once that happens it will be easier to make some final decisions." Meanwhile, ft.com reported on 6 February that Kyoji Yanagisawa, deputy chief cabinet secretary and senior spokesman for Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, has said that Japanese Self-Defense Forces will withdraw from Iraq within several months. Japan currently has 550 troops in the southern Al-Samawah Governorate. The "Financial Times" quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman as saying on 5 February that the government has made "no decision" on troop withdrawal but it hopes that it will be able to replace troops with civilians. KR

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