Accessibility links

Newsline - April 4, 2006


CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF SAYS RUSSIA DOES NOT NEED PARITY WITH NATO
General Yury Baluyevsky, who heads the Russian military's General Staff, said in Moscow on April 3 that his forces are "not going to fight NATO, but Russia had, has, and will have sufficient strategic deterrent forces to make anyone who attempts to attack our borders or seize our enormous resources see reason," Interfax reported. Russian forces will not need parity with NATO to provide a sufficient deterrent, he added. "We do not want to tighten our belts in order to achieve quantitative parity with the United States and NATO in missiles, planes, tanks, etc.," he said. He noted that NATO has 4 million servicemen, while Russia has 1.134 million. "We do not need more [than that]." PM

AIR-FORCE CHIEF CALLS FOR INTEGRATION OF CIS AIR DEFENSE
General Vladimir Mikhailov, who commands Russia's air forces, said in Minsk on April 4 that it is necessary to integrate into a single structure the air-defense systems of the member states of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Interfax reported. "The integration of national air-defense systems into collective security regions is the demand of the times. [Practice shows that]...national borders strongly limit the use of active air-defense forces and lower their capability to curb intrusions," he argued. He stressed that "integration should proceed along the lines of forming regional air-defense systems in the Caucasus and in the Eastern European and Central Asian collective security regions." PM

VENEZUELAN PRESIDENT SAYS RUSSIAN HELICOPTERS TO HELP IN 'WAR OF RESISTANCE'
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said at a demonstration of Russian MI-type military helicopters on April 3 that "these helicopters are ideal for a war of resistance...or] the anti-imperialist war...[that] hopefully will never come, but [for which] we have to be ready," Reuters reported from Caracas. He also said that Venezuela is "ready to buy Russian fighters to have them here defending the skies." His government expects to take delivery of a total of 15 MI-type helicopters in 2006 as part of a deal that also includes the purchase of 100,000 AK-47, or Kalashnikov, rifles. "This year, we will bring 15 helicopters here, and next year they will continue coming. And in a few weeks, we will have the first [Kalashnikovs]," Chavez noted. He added that "Russia has asked [about our future plans] and today I am saying...[that] we are ready to buy Russian planes, to have them here, defending the skies." Russian officials have said that they are willing to sell MiG fighters to Venezuela (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 10, 2006). Chavez has been seeking in recent months to purchase aircraft abroad as part of a massive expansion of his country's military that he says is necessary to deter an invasion by U.S. forces. PM

MYANMAR DELEGATION 'VISITING BROTHERS' IN MOSCOW
General Maung Aye, who is second in command in the ruling junta in Myanmar (Burma), discussed bilateral cooperation in Moscow on April 3 with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, "The Moscow Times" and news agencies reported. Aye called for promoting better relations between "our governments, peoples, and armed forces." Among the agreements signed was a memorandum of understanding between Russia's Zarubezhneft oil company and Myanmar's Energy Ministry. Aye noted that "we have rubber, gas, and oil, and there are many opportunities for cooperation in production." Myanmar's Foreign Minster Nyan Win discussed regional problems such as drug trafficking and terrorism with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, and said later that he felt as though he were "visiting my own brother." Russian officials stated that they are also interested in exploring fossil-fuel resources and developing hydroelectric power in Myanmar. China has also been active in obtaining commodities and developing port facilities and other infrastructure in Myanmar, which most Western countries shun because of its human rights abuses and lack of democracy. PM

POLLUTION PROBLEMS ON CHINESE BORDER CONTINUE
Russian scientists said on April 3 that chemical pollutants in China's Songhua River are more than 50 times higher than acceptable levels, news agencies reported. Tests have shown high concentrations of chlorphenols, a waste product from paper mills. Russia has been carefully monitoring the Chinese river, which flows into Siberia's Amur, after a factory explosion in November spewed benzene and other toxic chemicals into the Songhua, threatening the water supply of Khabarovsk and other cities in the Russian Far East (see End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, 2005). PM

REGIONAL LEADER WANTS THOROUGH INVESTIGATION IN ASSAULT CASE...
President Arsen Kanokov of the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic said in a televised address from Nalchik on April 3 that he wants a tough investigation into the recent beating in Moscow of Zaur Tutov, a well-known singer who serves as the republic's culture minister, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2006). "I think this case should be investigated thoroughly and the perpetrators found and punished. Manifestations of nationalism and chauvinism, especially in such aggressive forms, against citizens of Russia, wherever they are, are absolutely unacceptable," he stressed. On April 4, the Moscow prosecutor's office confirmed the detention of an unnamed Muscovite suspect in the assault. The investigation is continuing. PM

...AND A TAJIK FATHER SEEKS JUSTICE
Yunus Sultonov told RFE/RL's Tajik Service on April 3 by telephone that he condemns the recent lenient sentences handed down to those who killed his daughter, 9-year-old Khursheda Sultonova, in St. Petersburg in 2004 and hopes that the case will be reopened. "We can't leave this issue unresolved," he stressed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). Tajikistan protested the killing, which have become a symbol of increasing hate crimes in Russian cities. The jury's ruling on sentences shocked the victim's family and led to protests by human rights campaigners. PM

GAZPROM WANTS TO TRIPLE GAS PRICE FOR BELARUS
Gazprom Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ryazanov said at an energy forum in Moscow on April 4 that his company wants "world-class assets" from foreign companies in exchange for their right to participate in a consortium to develop the Shtokman gas field in the Barents Sea, Interfax reported. "From our partners we want to receive Gazprom participation in other assets, world-class assets, which will help us become a more global company," he stressed. He estimated the costs in the first phase of the Shtokman project to be in the $12 billion-$14 billion range, adding that his company is "winding up" talks with foreign companies on its short list of possible partners. He also called for "tripling" the present price of gas to Belarus by 2007 to bring it into line with the "market price," RIA Novosti reported. Gasprom recently raised the prospect of hiking its prices to Belarus, which currently receives gas at a subsidized price of $47 per 1,000 cubic meters -- far below prices paid by customers in Western Europe and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31, 2006). PM

EMBATTLED OLIGARCH SENT TO PACK BOXES
Yukos's former chief executive, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has been assigned to pack boxes at the Krasnokamensk prison in remote Chita Oblast, one of his lawyers told Interfax on April 3. He is serving an eight-year prison sentence there for fraud and tax evasion after a trial that was widely viewed as politically motivated and engineered by the Kremlin. In the prison, he was first assigned to be a seamstress' apprentice. He recently requested permission to conduct scientific research but has received no response, even though he says he has signed a contract with a chemistry journal. Russian courts have also placed some of his closest associates behind bars (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 8, and March 16 and 20, 2006). President Putin recently told Spanish journalists that he has no knowledge of the conditions in which Khodorkovsky is living, but added that "prison isn't a vacation camp." PM

ARMENIAN OPPOSITION LEADER VOWS TO WEATHER STATE INTIMIDATION
Former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian vowed on April 3 to weather what he characterized as "a government campaign of intimidation," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. Hovannisian charged that the recent closure of the Yerevan offices of his opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and allegations aired by Armenian state television against his wife suggest a determined effort by the authorities to force him to leave Armenia. Speaking at a Yerevan press conference, Hovannisian vowed that "neither the former, nor the current, nor the future governments can expel me and my family from the country or intimidate us with petty, cheap attacks." The U.S.-born Hovannisian, who first moved to Armenia 16 years ago and served as its foreign minister in 1992, has been engaged in an increasingly confrontational campaign against the Armenian authorities and has led opposition rallies protesting fraud in the country's November 27 constitutional referendum. His Zharangutyun party, expected to emerge as a serious opposition force in the 2007 parliamentary elections, was locked out of its Yerevan offices owned by a state-run theater on March 4, prompting the party and several leading opposition groups to denounce the move as politically motivated. RG

LOCAL LEADER OF ARMENIAN PARAMILITARY GROUP SURVIVES ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT
A local leader of the paramilitary Yerkrapah Union of Nagorno-Karabakh war veterans was wounded in a failed assassination attempt in the southern town of Armavir, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on April 3. Widely seen as linked to a dispute between powerful local businessmen, the shooting of Rostam Gasparian was reportedly carried out by gunmen hired by the victim's local business rival and parliamentarian Nahapet Gevorgian. The shooting is only the latest in a series of sporadic clashes between elements of Armenia's criminal underworld, many of whom hold political positions and power. RG

AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT MEETS VISITING U.S. OFFICIALS...
Ilham Aliyev met in Baku on April 3 with a visiting delegation of U.S. diplomats, Azertac news agency reported. The delegation, led by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Mathew Bryza and the head of the State Department Office of Policy Planning, Stephen Krasner, praised Azerbaijan for its contribution in support of the U.S.-led war on terrorism and for its deployment of troops to Iraq. President Aliyev said that the "successful cooperation" between the United States and Azerbaijan served as a crucial factor for the development of regional stability and security. RG

...AND WELCOMES RED CROSS HEAD
Azerbaijani President Aliyev also welcomed International Committee of the Red Cross head Jacob Kellenberger to Baku on April 3, according to the Azertac news agency. Kellenberger reviewed the state of Azerbaijani refugees and internally displaced persons still housed in temporary refugee camps. Aliyev informed Kellenberger that the government is "doing its best to resolve" the plight of the refugees, while Kellenberger recommended that the refugees be relocated into new settlements. Despite a cease-fire in effect since 1994, the bulk of the refugees remain in the camps and have not been reintegrated into Azerbaijani society. RG

FORMER GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER WARNS GOVERNMENT
Salome Zurabishvili urged the Georgian government on April 3 to correct its own mistakes, ITAR-TASS reported. In televised comments on state television, Zurabishvili said that "it is inadmissible to build politics and conduct affairs on mottos and in permanent search for enemies" and warned that the Georgian authorities "have not learned the lessons of history and are making the same serious mistakes." Zurabishvili was appointed foreign minister in March 2004 but was later removed in October 2004 following sharp criticism by the Georgian parliament. She now leads the opposition Georgia's Way party. RG

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT BEGINS WORK ON NEW LAWS TO CURB POLICE
Members of the Georgian parliamentary Legal Affairs Committee began work on April 3 to draft new legislation aimed at curbing excessive force by the police, Imedi TV reported. The new legislation, focusing imposing new limits on the use of firearms by police, follows a sharp increase in the number of deaths by police in cases of a questionable use of force. Legislators are referring to existing U.S. and European laws for guidance on new controls for police conduct. RG

KAZAKH MINISTER SAYS OPPOSITION COVERAGE BREAKS LAW
Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev has told Khabar that Kazakhstan's opposition press is violating the law with insinuations of government involvement in the deaths of opposition leaders Zamanbek Nurkadilov and Altynbek Sarsenbaev, Interfax reported on April 3. "The entire opposition press is flagrantly violating the media law and the constitution, which says that no one can be accused other than by court order," Ertysbaev said. "The opposition press is full of insinuations and libelous presumptions." Nurkadilov was found dead with three gunshot wounds in November in an incident the authorities ruled a suicide (see "RFE/RL Newsline," November 14 and 30, 2005). Sarsenbaev's body was discovered on February 13 along with the bodies of his driver and bodyguard; all of them had been killed execution-style (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). DK

KAZAKH PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW ENVIRONMENT MINISTER
President Nursultan Nazarbaev has signed a decree appointing Nurlan Iskakov minister of the environment, Khabar reported on April 3. Nazarbaev relieved Iskakov of his current position as head of the department of state control and organizational work in the presidential administration. DK

KYRGYZ SUPREME COURT CONFIRMS CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATE...
Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court ruled on April 3 to reject an appeal by the country's Central Election Commission and let stand a Bishkek court decision allowing Ryspek Akmatbaev to run for parliament in an April 9 by-election, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. "The Judicial Collegium [of the Kyrgyzstan's Supreme Court] has decided to uphold the ruling of Bishkek's Birinchi May District Court dated April 2, 2006, on this case," Judge Larisa Gutnichenko said. "The reviewing appeal by the representative of the Kyrgyz [Central Election Commission] has been rejected." The commission annulled Akmatbaev's candidacy on March 30, prompting Akmatbaev's supporters to stage a protest in Bishkek on March 31 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 31 and April 3, 2006). DK

...AS DEMONSTRATORS DEMAND KYRGYZ PRIME MINISTER'S RESIGNATION
Several hundred people demonstrated in Cholpon-Ata in Issyk-Kul Province on April 3, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Feliks Kulov, Kabar and Interfax reported. Protesters charged that Kulov failed to prevent the murder of parliamentary deputy Tynychbek Akmatbaev during a visit by the legislator to a besieged prison in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 21, 2005). Tynychbek Akmatbaev is the brother of Ryspek Akmatbaev, who led demonstrations calling for Kulov's removal in the wake of his brother's death (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 25, and 27, 2005). The seat in parliament Ryspek Akmatbaev hopes to win had been held by his brother. DK

TAJIK-RUSSIAN MILITARY EXERCISE BEGINS
Tajik and Russian troops began a four-day joint military exercise at the Lohur range in Tajikistan on April 2, Asia Plus-Blitz reported the next day. Aleksei Zavizion, commander of the Russian military base in Tajikistan, is directing the exercise, which is intended to improve combat coordination and sharpen antiterror skills. The news agency reported that the war games will involve more than 800 Russian and Tajik troops. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and Defense Minister Sherali Khayrulloev are expected to observe the final stage of the exercise on April 5. DK

CHINA, TURKMENISTAN SIGN PIPELINE AGREEMENT
China and Turkmenistan signed a framework agreement on April 3 to build a pipeline to export natural gas from Turkmenistan to China, turkmenistan.ru reported. The signing took place as Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov visited Beijing. A text of the pipeline agreement published by official Turkmen news agency TDH prescribed that China will buy 30 billion cubic meters of Turkmen gas each year for 30 years, starting in 2009, at a price in line with the "international market." The two sides will work out the details of pipeline construction by December 31, 2006, the agreement stated. Reports did not clarify the financial aspects of the deal, but Russia's "Kommersant" reported on April 3 that Niyazov would use his visit to China, which lasts until April 7, to try to convince the Chinese side to finance the pipeline project. DK

REPORT SAYS UZBEK AUTHORITIES PROBES HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Human Rights Watch's (HRW) Tashkent office has received a 14-point questionnaire from Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry querying the rights organization about its activities in Uzbekistan, ferghana.ru reported on April 3. The report said that HRW must respond by April 4. Ferghana.ru noted that similar inquiries have led to the expulsion from Uzbekistan of the Open Society Institute, Internews, IREX, Freedom House, and the Eurasia Foundation. DK

UZBEK PRESIDENT APPOINTS NEW DEPUTY PREMIER
President Islam Karimov has signed a decree appointing Ergash Shoismatov deputy prime minister, Regnum reported on April 3. Shoismatov will be in charge of the country's oil and gas sector, machine-building, metallurgy, and chemical industry, press-uz.info reported. Shoismatov served previously as chairman of state energy company Uzbekenergo and as minister of power and electrification. Shoismatov replaces Otkir Sultonov, whom Karimov removed from his post in connection with a "transfer to other work." DK

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER VISITS AUSTRIA
Opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich met with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel in Vienna on March 3, Reuters reported. Milinkevich reportedly asked Schuessel, whose country holds the EU rotating presidency, that the EU provide greater opportunities for Belarusian students to study abroad as well as support the independent press and help promote civil society in Belarus. Milinkevich told the agency that he expects an opposition protest in Minsk on April 8, when President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is to be sworn in for his third term. "We have not yet decided on the form of the protest. I do not think that it will be a big meeting. The big meeting will take place on April 26," Milinkevich said, referring to traditional opposition rallies to mark the anniversary of the Chornobyl nuclear accident. Milinkevich has been invited to attend a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg later this week. JM

BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT JOURNALIST BANNED FROM FOREIGN TRAVEL
Mikalay Markevich, a journalist currently working with the Polish-based Belarusian-language Radio Racja, has been banned from traveling abroad, Belapan reported on April 3. Markevich said a local migration and citizenship department in Hrodna refused to put a foreign-travel permit stamp in his passport, citing an order from the Committee for State Security (KGB). Markevich told Belapan that the ban must be linked to his professional activities. "There are no reasons that would allow the KGB to impose an official travel ban on me. I don't hold any state secrets. I have no unpaid fines, no uncleared criminal record, I'm not implicated in any criminal case. That's why I can link the authorities' actions only to my involvement in resumed broadcasts by Radio Racja in Bialystok," Markevich said. Radio Racja, funded by the Polish government, started broadcasts to Belarus shortly before the March 19 presidential vote in that country. JM

BELARUSIAN LOWER HOUSE SLAMS ELECTION CRITICS
The Chamber of Representatives on April 3 reconvened after a winter recess, Belapan reported. Lawmakers adopted a resolution lambasting the countries and international organizations that criticized last month's presidential election in Belarus. The Belarusian lower house accused the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of making biased assessments of the election, "fulfilling the political order of those interested to destabilize the situation in Belarus and [to cause] its international isolation," and applying a flawed election-monitoring methodology. It also slammed the Polish parliament for not recognizing the official election results and supporting the opposition in Belarus. In another resolution, the Belarusian legislature blamed the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for the death of Slobodan Milosevic, demanding that judges be brought to justice for denying the former Yugoslav president an opportunity to undergo treatment in Russia. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT HOLDS LAST SESSION
The Verkhovna Rada of the fourth convocation (elected in March 2002) convened for its last session on April 4, Ukrainian media reported. The main issue on the agenda was the demand by some Ukrainian political forces that the Central Election Commission order a vote recount for the March 26 parliamentary elections. Representatives of some parties and blocs that failed to pass the 3 percent threshold qualifying for parliamentary representation -- including the Lytvyn People's Bloc, the Yuriy Karmazin Bloc, the Viche Party, the People's Democratic Party, and the Natalya Vitrenko Bloc -- held a picket in front of the parliamentary building, demanding such a recount. However, the Verkhovna Rada rejected several resolutions on the issue. At the same time, the Ukrainian parliament passed a bill limiting the immunity of local councilors from prosecution. The bill allows to instigate criminal proceedings against local-council deputies for the prosecutor-general, the deputy prosecutor-general, the prosecutor of the Crimean Autonomous Republic, and the city prosecutors of Kyiv and Sevastopol. JM

DOES KYIV HAVE A NEW MAYOR?
The Kyiv City Election Commission announced on April 4 that Leonid Chernovetskyy was elected Kyiv mayor in the March 26 local elections with nearly 460,000 votes, UNIAN reported. Chernovetskyy, a deputy of the Our Ukraine caucus in the fourth Verkhovna Rada, beat famous Ukrainian boxer Vitaliy Klychko and previous Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko. However, Kyiv prosecutors on April 3 opened a criminal case against Chernovetskyy, following Omelchenko's complaint that Chernovetskyy bribed voters during the election campaign. Chernovetskyy rejects the charges, accusing unspecified people of staging a provocation against him. "Less than a week before the voting day my election staff was informed that some people on my behalf were distributing low-quality products among Kyiv residents and openly calling on them to vote for Leonid Chernovetskyy," Interfax-Ukraine quoted Chernovetskyy as saying on April 3. JM

SERBIAN OFFICIAL SAYS TARGET FOR EU ENTRY 2012...
Deputy Foreign Economic Relations Minister Dusko Lopandic said on April 3 that Serbia is aiming to join the European Union by 2012 and that possible Montenegrin independence will not derail the process, Beta and B92 reported the same day. "Eastern European nations started discussions [during the] last decade, and we are starting in 2006," he said. "All those countries had the goal of entering the EU by 2000, but did not do so until 2004. Our goal will be 2012." Lopandic said that Serbia and Montenegro are holding separate discussions with Brussels in many areas of the ongoing Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) talks, and that Montenegrin independence, should it come about, will not affect either side's potential accession. BW

...AS MONTENEGRIN PRIME MINISTER SAYS EU NEGOTIATIONS WILL CONTINUE IMMEDIATELY AFTER INDEPENDENCE
Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said on April 4 that in the event of independence, Podgorica plans on seamlessly continuing SAA negotiations with the EU, B92 reported. "The first obligation is toward the European Union," Djukanovic said. "We wish to continue intensive discussions with the EU as soon as May 22, so that we would not lose even one day in finalizing the Stabilization and Association Agreement." He added that he expects Montenegro to conclude the SAA by November. Montenegro's independence referendum is scheduled for May 21. BW

KOSOVA TALKS DEADLOCKED ON ISSUE OF SERBIAN AUTONOMY
United Nations-backed talks on Kosova's final status appeared to reach an impasse on April 3 as Belgrade continued to insist on a Serbian entity within the province, international news agencies reported the same day. Deputy UN envoy Albert Rohan, who is chairing the current round of talks, said there are still "considerable differences" over how much local autonomy to grant minority Serbs. UN mediators support considerable local self-government, and even the possibility of cooperation between Serbian areas in Kosova and Belgrade, Reuters reported. But Serbs are insisting on an "entity" within Kosova, similar to the Republika Srpska in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with broad autonomy. Both Western powers and Kosovar authorities have rejected this proposal outright. BW

MAN ARRESTED IN 2005 KOSOVA BOMBINGS
Police in Kosova on April 3 arrested a man suspected of bombing Western targets in Prishtina, AFP reported the same day. "The police arrested the 38-year-old male in Prishtina in connection with three explosions" that took place in July 2005, UN Mission in Kosova spokesman Neeraj Singh said. Police are withholding the suspect's identity. On July 2, 2005, three bombs exploded in Prishtina: one outside the UN Mission office, another near parliament, and a third outside the local headquarters of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 7, 2005). Singh said police also suspect that the man in custody planted a bomb that failed to explode the same day near the building of Kosova's RTK public television network. "The investigation is going on. All details on him can be expected if he will be charged for the explosions," Singh said. BW

NATO SEEKS FUNDS FOR DECOMMISSIONING AND RETRAINING BOSNIAN MILITARY
NATO announced on April 3 that it has begun soliciting contributions for a 13 million-euro ($15.7 million) fund to help demobilize and retrain as many as 11,000 military personnel in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Reuters reported the same day. "I hope that many nations will step forward," NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told reporters after a meeting of the alliance's North Atlantic Council and the European Union's Political and Security Committee. "I am hoping to raise a lot of money," de Hoop Scheffer added. He said a few NATO members have already contributed. The fund will be used to retrain military personnel for either civilian jobs or different military tasks, a NATO spokesman told Reuters. BW

AMERICAN WITNESSES TO TESTIFY IN MOLDOVAN EX-DEFENSE MINISTER'S APPEALS TRIAL
Chisinau's Court of Appeals announced on April 3 that two American witnesses will testify in the case of former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Pasat is appealing his conviction in January for abuse of power in connection with the sale of 21 MiG-29 fighters to the United States in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2006). Pasat was sentenced to 10 years in prison. According to Pasat's lawyer, Gheorghe Amihalachioae, U.S. officials Wayne Merry and Todd Stewart, who were involved in the U.S. side of the MiG deal, will testify on Pasat's behalf. BW

IS GAS WAR BREWING BETWEEN RUSSIA AND BELARUS?
At a meeting with Belarusian officials on March 30, Aleksei Miller, the CEO of Russia's state gas monopoly Gazprom, announced that in 2007 Belarus will be charged European rates for Russian gas. That could mean the country paying up to five times as much -- something that could seriously affect the Belarusian economy, which has long depended on cheap gas imports.

Things looked much rosier in December 2005. Russia and Belarus signed a one-year contract for 2006 gas deliveries at $46.68 per 1,000 cubic meters. In return, Belarus agreed to complete on schedule its section of the Yamal-Europe pipeline, which will transport gas to Germany via Poland. Belarus also agreed to resolve problems regarding the leases for land on which Russian compressor stations are to be built.

Meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Sochi on December 15, 2005, Russian President Vladimir Putin backed Lukashenka in the forthcoming presidential election. Putin was optimistic about ties with Belarus.

But the spirit of bonhomie wasn't in existence on March 30 when Miller met with Belarusian Energy Minister Alyaksandr Ageyev and Dimitry Kazakov, the head of Beltranshaz, the Belarusian state company that owns and operates the country's gas-pipeline network. Miller gave them advance notice that in 2007 Belarus will be charged European rates for Russian gas deliveries. Western European buyers of Russian gas now pay approximately $230 per 1,000 cubic meters.

The official reason for this was later explained by the Russian ambassador to Belarus, Aleksandr Surikov, who said that the price increase was needed in order for Russia to be accepted into the World Trade Organization, Belapan news agency reported on March 31.

Some analysts have suggested that Gazprom's announcement could be meant to lessen criticism of Russia's use of gas as a tool of foreign policy prior to Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized countries' summit in July. The topic of energy security will top the agenda at the meeting. Russia, which is currently the chair of the G-8, could then say it is being even-handed in its gas-pricing policy and is selling to friend and foe alike at "European prices."

Syarhey Zvanko, head of the Department for Russia and the Union State in the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, reacted cautiously to the news that Gazprom might raise prices in 2007. He explained on March 31 that, according to a Belarusian-Russian agreement, "economic entities in both countries are to enjoy equal conditions and a price policy accord that entitles Belarus to gas deliveries at the rate charged for consumers in Russia's fifth price zone," Belapan reported.

Gazprom sells gas to its domestic customers on the basis of 11 regulated geographical price zones. The price for 1,000 cubic meters of gas in the fifth zone, including value-added tax, in March was $46.72 for nonresidential consumers and $36.52 for residential users. Overall, prices in the zones vary from $28.65 in the first zone to $54.81 in the 11th. This unwieldy system was designed to prevent a "payments crisis," after Gazprom was faced with nonpayment of gas bills from domestic consumers in the early 1990s.

Does this mean the era of cheap gas for Belarus is now coming to an end? Valery Karbalevich, an analyst with the independent Minsk-based Strategy Center for Political Analysis, thinks probably not. He said the Belarusian authorities do not seem to be overly concerned as they know that the country offers Russia a transit route to its European markets and there is very little Gazprom can do to impose its will.

Karbalevich said if the price is pushed up, the Belarusian authorities could just take as much Russian gas as they need to satisfy the country's requirements, as Ukraine has done. "If Russia refuses to supply the gas, he [Lukashenka] will simply take the gas being transported to Europe and all the problems will be settled," Karbalevich said. He added that Russia has very few possibilities to pressure both Minsk and Kyiv until a pipeline under the Baltic Sea, which will bypass Belarus and Ukraine, is completed by the end of this year.

Belarus's current gas contract with Russia was signed at the height of the Ukrainian-Russian "gas war." The low price for Belarus was used by Western critics as proof that Russia was raising gas prices for Ukraine as part of a policy to punish the new, pro-Western Ukrainian leadership, while subsidizing its friends in Belarus.

Lukashenka then tried to counter Western critics who claimed that his country was getting cheap gas for political reasons. "Belarus gets Russian gas cheaply not for friendship's sake," Lukashenka told the Russian newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta." "We do not ask Russia to sell us gas for a song," he said. Lukashenka added that the transit of Russian gas through Belarusian territory costs one-fifth to one-third less than that through Ukraine. Russia pays Belarus $0.75 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers for transporting gas via the Beltranshaz pipeline and $0.46 per 1,000 cubic meters per 100 kilometers along the Yamal-Europe pipeline.

Another important factor is the ownership of the trunk pipelines running through Belarus. One pipeline was built in Soviet times and is owned by the Belarusian state. The second, the Yamal-Europe pipeline, will be completed by the end of this year and is currently running at reduced capacity. This pipeline belongs to Gazprom, but the land on which it is built belongs to the Belarusian state and is leased to Gazprom on a long-term basis.

Jan Maksymiuk, RFE/RL's Belarus and Ukraine analyst, said that Moscow has pushed Minsk to give up control of the Belarusian gas-pipeline network. "Moscow unambiguously indicated that it wants control over Beltranshaz, the state-run operator of Belarus's gas-pipeline network. Lukashenka, who promised in 2002 to set up a Belarusian-Russian venture to run Belarusian gas pipelines, backed down on his decision in 2004," Maksymiuk said. "That provoked an angry response from Gazprom, which even cut off Belarus's gas flow for one day."

Belarus owes Gazprom $120 million for gas debts run up since the 1990s. A substantial price increase for 2007 gas deliveries could place Belarus in a difficult position and might force it to relinquish control over Beltranshaz to Russia in return for a cheaper gas price and the cancellation of the debt. This could further upset the already shaky foundations for a union between the two countries. It could also raise European concerns over reliable gas deliveries through the Yamal-Europe pipeline.(RFE/RL correspondent Valentinas Mite contributed to this report.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT CONDEMNS 'BARBARIC' SLAYING OF TURKISH ENGINEER...
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the roadside murder of a Turkish national on April 3, saying the "enemies of Afghanistan again showed their anti-Islam and anti-humanity designs," Pajhwak Afghan News reported. Karzai added that Afghans are determined "to continue to cooperate with the international community" in rebuilding their country despite such "barbaric" acts. The victim, identified as Garip Unal, was engaged in Afghan roadwork for the Kolin construction company and was killed in the southwestern Nimroz Province on April 2, Anatolia news agency reported the next day. Nimroz Governor Gholam Dastagir Azad blamed neo-Taliban insurgents for the tragedy. Azad said Unal was pulled from his car and shot, while his three bodyguards were disarmed and then released by the assailants, AFP reported on April 3. The assailants then burned Unal's body, Azad told AFP. AT

...AS NEO-TALIBAN CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY
Purported neo-Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif said on April 3 that Taliban forces were responsible for Unal's execution, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported. "The Taliban shot a Turkish engineer" because what he was "doing was serving the Americans," Mohammad Hanif told AIP in a telephone message. AT

WOULD-BE SUICIDE BOMBER KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
A suspected suicide bomber was killed along with a civilian bystander in the Arghandab district of Kandahar Province on April 3, Pajhwak Afghan News reported. District police chief Zmaray told Pajhwak that a man began running toward him and shouting "God is Great" as he tried "to explode the explosives wrapped around his body" but "could not succeed." Zmaray's bodyguard shot the attacker but also struck and killed a civilian bystander, the report added. Zmaray blamed the "enemies of Afghanistan" -- a term frequently used by Afghan government officials for the neo-Taliban -- for the incident. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. AT

LOCAL NEO-TALIBAN COMMANDER SURRENDERS IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Mawlawi Shafiullah, a local neo-Taliban commander in Zabul Province, surrendered to Afghan government forces on April 3, Pajhwak Afghan News reported, citing provincial police chief Mohammad Nabi Mullakhail. Shafiullah has accepted the standing amnesty proposal made by President Karzai and has vowed to encourage other neo-Taliban militia members in the area to follow suit, Mullakhail added. Karzai said in January that several hundred former Taliban fighters accepted his government's reconciliation offer, although no active, senior neo-Taliban members has openly accepted (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 9, 2006). AT

U.K. AGENCY PREDICTS MINE-FREE AFGHANISTAN IN 2013
Afghanistan will have been fully cleared of millions of land mines by 2013, Farid Homayun, director of the U.K.-based demining agency HALO Trust, said on April 3, Xinhua reported. More than 1 million square kilometers of Afghan territory have been cleared of land mines, but 716,000 million square kilometers remain mined, Homayun added. "There are 4.2 million Afghans [who] directly or indirectly have been affected by mines," he said. While reliable figures are difficult to come by, Afghanistan remains one of the most heavily mined countries in the world with some 1.5 million Afghans either killed or maimed by land mines since the Soviet invasion of that country in 1979. The Soviets used mines indiscriminately during their 10-year occupation, and all parties in the ensuing civil war continued to rely on the devices. AT

HARD-LINE IRANIAN PARTY TO HAVE FIRST MEETING OF NEW YEAR
The first session of the new year of the central council of the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-i Isargaran-i Inqilab-i Islami) will take place soon, "Sharq" reported on April 4. Central council member Mujtaba Shakeri said that after electing a secretary-general and other leaders, subsequent sessions will be devoted to determining the party's program for the coming year. He identified the upcoming Assembly of Experts election and the nuclear issue as important matters that the party must consider. BS

IRANIAN JOURNALIST'S PRISON RELEASE DELAYED
Dissident journalist Akbar Ganji, who was released on prison leave in mid-March and whose release was expected to take place during his leave period, must return to confinement, ILNA reported. This is because he was given a seven-day leave starting on March 18, the unidentified deputy prosecutor for prison affairs said, but Ganji did not return on March 25. The period he was absent without leave will be added to his sentence, the official said. BS

MILITARY EXERCISES TAKE PLACE NEAR IRANIAN HOLY CITY
Twenty battalions made up of Basij members working at government offices participated in the Forces of Muhammad military exercise near the Tehran-Qom highway on April 3, Fars News Agency reported. Commander Safar Ali Baratlu, commander of the Basij forces of ministries and government offices, said there are now 900,000 Basij members working in state institutions. He did not specify whether that is a provincial or national figure. By participating in this exercise as the "enemy" tries to isolate Iran, he said, "government employees are demonstrating a practical response to internal and external enemies and proving their loyalty to the government." According to the dispatch, these were asymmetric warfare exercises designed to counter an enemy attack. This was the first time such exercises have taken place, and the participants used small and medium-size weapons. Rescue and relief operations took place, too. BS

IRAN'S PERSIAN GULF WAR GAMES PURPORTEDLY SIGNAL 'CONVERGENCE' WITH NEIGHBORS
As Iranian naval-warfare exercises in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman entered their fourth day on 3 April, Basij commander Brigadier General Mohammad Hejazi said his force is ready to defend the country, Fars News Agency reported. He added that the war games reflect Iran's policy of "convergence" with neighboring Persian Gulf states. Insecurity caused by aliens, Hejazi said, has a cost for the enemy and those who undermine regional stability. Referring to an earlier missile test conducted by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2006), Hejazi said that only Iran's enemies should be fearful. He added that all the countries in the region benefit from the establishment of security, and this security helps Iran economically. Therefore, he continued, Iran would not seek to destabilize the region. BS

IRAQI PRESIDENT SAYS VERDICT ON HUSSEIN'S TRIALS TO BE ISSUED AFTER ALL CASES TRIED
Jalal Talabani told reporters on April 4 that he believes Saddam Hussein will stand trial in all cases against him before the court hands down a verdict, Reuters reported. "I believe the court is working on a plan whereby [Hussein] will be tried for all the crimes and then a verdict will be handed down," he said. The chief prosecutor in the Al-Dujayl trial, Ja'far al-Musawi, told "The Washington Post" that he has received the investigating judge's file on the next case against Hussein (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 2006) for the 1988 Anfal campaign of genocide against Iraq's Kurdish population. Al-Musawi said more than eight former regime officials will be on trial, including Hussein's cousin and former secretary-general of the northern bureau of Iraq's Ba'ath Arab Socialist Party, Ali Hassan al-Majid. Al-Musawi said the trial will not begin for some time, as the court is obliged to give 45 days' notice on the start of the trial to the accused. KR

FORMER IRAQI PRIME MINISTER CRITICIZES CALL FOR INCLUDING MILITIA IN ARMY
In an interview published in the London-based "Al-Sharq al-Awsat" on April 3, former Prime Minster Iyad Allawi criticized a proposal by outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari to merge cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam Al-Mahdi Army into the Iraqi army. Allawi said the proposal was in breach of Law No. 91, which says militias must not be included in the army. "We said that some of the militia members could be included in the armed forces and others in the public sector, and yet others in the private sector. As to turning the army and police into groups representing political entities, blocs, and militias, this means that they will turn into conflicting sides within the state's security apparatus," he added. KR

IRAQI KURDISH INTELLECTUAL PARDONED BY KURDISH REGIONAL PREMIER
Kurdistan Regional Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani pardoned Kamal Sayyid Qadir one week after Qadir was sentenced to 18 months in prison for articles he wrote criticizing President Mas'ud Barzani's administration, kurdishmedia.com reported on April 3. Qadir's lawyer told RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq on April 3 that he was informed of his client's release, but has not heard from him. The lawyer, Guvand Baban, said Kurdish authorities told him that Qadir was taken to a safe place, after which he will be transferred to Austria, where he has citizenship. KR

SADDAM'S FEDAYEEN VOWS TO CONTINUE IRAQI RESISTANCE
A 31 March Internet statement attributed to the former Ba'athist paramilitary unit known as Saddam's Fedayeen pledged that the group will continue its resistance operations. Addressing Saddam Hussein and former Vice President Izzat Ibrahim al-Duri, the statement said the resistance plan was being executed "as agreed," and "the resistance is on the rise." The statement also claims that Saddam's Fedayeen have full control of Mosul; that Ba'ath Party members have infiltrated government institutions and political parties; that the Fedayeen along with former intelligence officers are monitoring the movements of the heads of state; and that the Fedayeen is working closely with other factions -- Islamic, national, and individual -- within the resistance. Meanwhile, the Islamic Resistance Movement -- 1920 Revolution Brigades posted a statement to hanein.net on April 3 criticizing a March 27 audiotape attributed to al-Duri, saying the former leader tried to misrepresent the nature of the resistance (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30, 2006). The group also disavowed any connection to the Ba'ath Party. KR

IRAQI MILITANTS CLAIM RESPONSIBILITY FOR DOWNING U.S. HELICOPTER
A group calling itself the Al-Rashidin Army claimed responsibility for the April 1 downing of a U.S. military helicopter south of Baghdad in a videotape broadcast by Al-Jazeera television on April 3. Al-Jazeera said it could not verify the authenticity of the video. The helicopter crashed near Al-Yusufiyah, killing two pilots, the military announced in an April 2 statement. Elsewhere, five U.S. Marines were killed when a truck rolled over in a flash flood near Al-Asad on April 2, according to an April 3 press statement on mnf-iraq.com. Another Marine was injured in the accident, while two Marines and one sailor remained missing, the statement said. KR

XS
SM
MD
LG