RUSSIAN MINISTER WARNS NATO
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov told the Minsk-based daily "Sovetskaya Belorussiya" of April 20 that "in the event of a clear violation of the balance of forces near our borders [by NATO], we reserve the lawful right to take all necessary measures to ensure the [soundness] of our national security," Interfax reported. He argued that the deployment of additional NATO units to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia could "conflict with the obligations of NATO countries on restraint with regard to the deployment of conventional armed forces, as laid down in the founding act on mutual relations...between Russia and NATO, signed on May 27, 1997, in Paris." Ivanov added that Russia will "monitor the situation" but hopes that his country will not need to strengthen its military position in response to any moves by NATO. His remarks coincided with a Moscow visit by U.S. General James Jones, who is NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. The daily "Kommersant" wrote on April 21 that "the place and the moment for [Ivanov's] interview were apparently chosen with care. The territory of Belarus is all Russia could use in its "appropriate response." It is the only region where Moscow could deploy its forces in retaliation for the deployment of new NATO bases in Eastern Europe." PM
POLAND SEEKS TO DIVERSIFY ENERGY SUPPLIES AWAY FROM RUSSIA...
Polish President Lech Kaczynski told the Moscow-based daily "Kommersant" of April 21 that his country intends to diversify its gas supplies in the wake of the recent Ukrainian gas crisis and the German-Russian agreement to build the North European Gas Pipeline under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Poland (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 30 and 31, and April 3, 2006, and End Note, "RFE/RL Newsline," January 17, 2006). "Diversification of gas supplies is a future goal for Poland. We believe that this wish should be understood especially correctly in Russia that is striving for diversification of the transit routes for its raw materials, he said." Kaczynski stressed that "the problem of routes for gas transportation from Russia should be discussed by all interested parties, especially since Poland and Russia are connected by bilateral agreements in this area. I ask you not to be surprised that Poland has felt excluded from developing a long-term plan for construction of the Russian-European transit infrastructure." PM
...AND FINDS U.S. MISSILE DEFENSE 'INTERESTING'
In his interview with the daily "Kommersant" of April 21, Polish President Kaczynski said that his country finds the possible deployment of parts of the planned U.S. missile-defense system on Polish territory "interesting." He said that "Poland has not yet made a decision on joining the missile defense system. However, I consider this program interesting. It will allow avoidance of a situation when a weak and irresponsible state can possibly blackmail us and our allies with use of weapons of mass destruction." Regarding possible NATO enlargement, Kaczynski noted that "it's no secret that Poland supports the intention of Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO.... But everything depends on Ukraine and Georgia [themselves].... From our experience we know that decisiveness can eliminate resistance from outside." He added that a meeting of heads of states in international relations "is form, not content," that could nonetheless lead to an improvement in bilateral ties. To that end, Kaczynski said that he does not "rule out" such a meeting between himself and Russian President Vladimir Putin, perhaps "this fall." PM
GERMAN MINISTER HAILS RUSSIA AS 'RELIABLE' GAS SUPPLIER
On April 20, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that German firms should conduct their relations with Gazprom, which seeks direct access to the German market, according to the rules of international and European business practices, the "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on April 22. A government spokesman warned that "threats made by either side" are counterproductive. The Frankfurt-based daily suggested that German firms should be cautious in dealing with Gazprom as long as Russia does not offer them sound legal protection. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier nonetheless told the public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on April 22 that he considers Russia a "reliable partner" for Germany's gas imports. Steinmeier, who was previously an aide to former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, stressed that he has "no doubt" of Russia's reliability following his recent visit to Moscow. These remarks follow an exchange of comments by top Gazprom and EU officials, in which Brussels called on Gazprom to honor its gas-supply commitments to EU members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 3, 20, and 21, 2006). Merkel will meet s with President Putin and other Russian leaders in Tomsk on April 26-27. PM
TEENAGER HELD IN SUSPECTED HATE KILLING
A spokesman for the Moscow prosecutor's office told Interfax on April 24 that an unnamed 17-year-old male is being held in connection with the killing of an Armenian male of the same age in the Moscow subway on April 22. The spokesman added that the detainee "has already confessed." Some Russian media described the attackers as "skinheads." Several apparently ethnically motivated hate crimes have been reported in the media in recent months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11 and 12, 2006). PM
ARMENIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT NATO MEMBERSHIP
Armenian President Robert Kocharian dismissed on April 22 any suggestion that Armenia seeks to join either NATO or the European Union, according to Mediamax, as cited by Groong. Kocharian explained that although Armenia is "expanding cooperation" with NATO and "hopes for fruitful cooperation" within the framework of the Individual Partnership Action Plan, "Armenia is not going to join NATO." The president's comments are in response to a recent interview with a German newspaper by Armenian parliamentary speaker Artur Baghdasarian in which he said that "Armenia's future is the European Union and NATO" and warned that "Russia should not stand in our way to Europe." RG
ARMENIAN POLICE DETAIN BODYGUARDS OF OPPOSITION LEADER
A special unit of the Armenian police halted on April 21 a convoy transporting an opposition leader through Yerevan and arrested six of his bodyguards, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo reported. The arrest, conducted by a dozen masked policemen, targeted bodyguards accompanying Aram Karapetian, the leader of the opposition Nor Zhamanakner (New Times) party, although Karapetian was not detained. The National Security Service announced that the bodyguards were detained on suspicion of illegal arms possession. The bodyguards were released only hours after the incident and no formal charges were lodged against them. Karapetian later claimed that the police were retaliating for his party's planned April 28 demonstration outside the National Security Service headquarters. RG
INDIAN STUDENTS STAGE DEMONSTRATION IN ARMENIA
More than 800 Indian students studying in Armenia staged a demonstration on April 20-21 to protest the handling of the death of a fellow Indian student, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and the A1+ website reported. The demonstrators complained that Armenian authorities mishandled the death of Prashant Valecha, a third-year student at Yerevan State Medical University, who died en route to hospital on April 20 after falling from the sixth floor of his dormitory. Witnesses reported that despite calling immediately for an ambulance, it took at least 40 minutes for one to arrive. They also claimed that hostel wardens and police officers prevented them from treating the dying student and have directed much of their criticism at Gohar Kalian, the rector of the university. RG
ARMENIAN GOVERNMENT CARRIES OUT ANOTHER QUESTIONABLE PRIVATIZATION DEAL
The Armenian government decided on April 20 to privatize the Medical Genetics Center, affiliated with the Armenian National Academy of Sciences, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The deal, worth an estimated 15.2 million drams ($34 million) and with no competitive tender, transfers ownership of the facility to the daughter of a newly appointed adviser to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian. The closed privatization comes in the wake of a parliamentary debate that strongly criticized the privatization of state-run enterprises and other assets from 2001 through 2004 for a lack of transparency and competition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12 and 20, 2006). The new owner of the Medical Genetics Center, Tamara Sargsian, is the daughter of Fadey Sargsian, who was forced to resign on April 6 as chairman of the National Academy of Sciences amid allegations of corruption. RG
VISITING EU DELEGATION MEETS WITH AZERBAIJANI PRESIDENT...
President Ilham Aliyev and Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov met in Baku on April 22 with a visiting EU delegation led by Austrian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Hans Winkler, Turan reported. The EU officials discussed the planed expansion of ties with Azerbaijan within the framework of the EU's New Neighborhood Policy and presented a detailed overview of several areas of bilateral interest, including security, political, economic, and legal cooperation. RG
...AND WITH AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION LEADERS
Following a meeting in Baku with Azerbaijani officials and President Aliyev, an EU delegation led by Austrian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Winkler met on April 22 with the leaders of several Azerbaijani opposition parties, according to Turan. The EU delegation reaffirmed the need for improvements in both human rights and democracy and discussed the implications of greater EU-Azerbaijani cooperation for political reform. The opposition leaders also raised the absence of an independent judiciary, the lack of an independent media, and the Azerbaijani authorities "disregard" for their "failure to fulfill" their commitments to the Council of Europe. The meeting was attended by the leaders of the opposition Azadliq bloc, Ali Karimli, Lale Sovkat, and Sardar Calaloglu; the leader of the Musavat Party, Isa Qambar; and a representative of the Yeni Siyaset (New Politics) bloc, Eldar Namazov. RG
AZERBAIJANI OFFICIALS MEET WITH VISITING U.S. ENVOY
Arriving in Baku after meeting with senior Armenian leaders, the U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group, Ambassador Steve Mann, met on April 22 with Azerbaijani President Aliyev and other officials, ANS-TV reported. Although the U.S. diplomat was seeking to encourage Baku to engage more actively in the OSCE Minsk Group's Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations, Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov was quoted as dismissing reports that Washington was presenting any "new proposals." The OSCE's diplomatic effort is preparing for a possible summit meeting between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents sometime in July. RG
EU OFFICIALS MEETS WITH GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER
Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili met in Tbilisi on April 21 with a visiting EU delegation led by Austrian Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Winkler, according to Civil Georgia and Caucasus Press. In comments during a press conference following the meeting, the EU official stated that the implementation of the Georgian peace plan for the settlement of the South Ossetian conflict, expected to be finalized sometime next month, will be "a real test of relations" between Georgia and the EU. Winkler added that "our visit to Georgia is a confirmation of the EU's interest" in the region and stressed the need for energy security and a greater diversification of energy supplies. RG
CHAIRMAN'S OUSTER RESULTS IN STAFF BOYCOTT AT KAZAKH STATE TELEVISION...
The removal of Galym Dosken as chairman of the board at the state-controlled television and radio corporation Kazakhstan has sparked a staff walk-out, news agencies reported. Employees received notice of Dosken's removal on the night of April 18, Channel 31 television reported on April 20. Dosken was replaced by Nurtleu Imangaliev in a decision by the Culture and Information Ministry. Nurlan Onerbai, deputy chairman of the television station's board, told a press conference on April 20 that the change violated established procedures that requires collegial decision making in such cases, Navigator reported the next day. Journalists at Kazakhstan announced a two-day work stoppage in protest, "Kazakhstan Today" reported on April 21. The next day the news agency reported that over 120 employees had submitted resignation letters. For his part, Culture and Information Minister Ermukhamet Ertysbaev called the change a "routine staff rotation." DK
...AS MINISTER HINTS AT FULL STATE CONTROL OVER KHABAR
Ertysbaev told journalists on April 20 that his job is to "make sure there is a high-quality state information policy, at least at state TV channels like Kazakhstan," Channel 31 reported. He added that the task may require the restoration of "full control over the Khabar [media holding company] to ensure that there is no manipulation." Khabar is currently controlled by Darigha Nazarbaeva, the daughter of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Nazarbaeva and Ertysbaev recently sparred over the question of whether or not the country should hold new parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 24, 2006). The suggestion that the state needs to restore control over Khabar comes amid reports of strained relations between Nazarbaev and his daughter in the wake of the political infighting that followed the February killing of opposition leader Altynbek Sarsenbaev (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 14, 2006). DK
NATO DELEGATION VISITS KAZAKHSTAN
Robert Simmons, special representative of NATO Secretary-General Jaap De Hoop Scheffer for the South Caucasus and Central Asia, said in the course of a NATO delegation's visit to Kazakhstan on April 22 that it is "important for us that Kazakhstan has advanced and signed the Individual Partnership Action Plan with NATO," Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. Kazakh Deputy Defense Minister Bulat Sembinov noted that more than 3,000 aircraft from NATO countries and nations in the antiterrorist coalition have used Kazakhstan's airspace since the start of operations in Afghanistan. Sembinov added that coalition aircraft have made 360 emergency landings at two Kazakh airfields during this period. Sembinov also said that forces from the United Kingdom, United States, and Turkey will participate in Kazakhstan's Steppe Eagle 2006 military exercises, which will be held in September under the aegis of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. DK
KYRGYZ MINISTER RESIGNS IN PROTEST
Almazbek Atambaev, head of Kyrgyzstan's Social Democratic Party, has resigned as minister of industry, trade, and tourism to protest the government's inability to enact reforms, akipress.org reported on April 21. In a statement, Atambaev warned that nepotism is flourishing, the fight against corruption has stalled, criminal forces are infiltrating politics, and reforms are lagging. He concluded, "This is not what the revolution was carried out for." Atambaev said that he will take part in a planned April 29 opposition rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 19, 2006). The press service of President Kurmanbek Bakiev issued a reply on April 21, akipress.org reported, that stated: "In essence, Atambaev's resignation request is nothing other than the recognition of his powerlessness in the face of the concrete tasks that were entrusted to him." Bakiev had recently asked cabinet members to end their membership in political parties or resign their posts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 11, 2006), a request Atambaev's ministry described as a violation of Kyrgyz labor law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 2006). DK
CIS INTERIOR MINISTERS MEET IN TAJIKISTAN
The CIS Council of Interior Ministers held its 10th session in Dushanbe on April 21, signing documents on cooperation among law-enforcement agencies, Avesta reported. On April 22, forces from Armenia, Belarus, Russia, and Tajikistan held joint exercises in Tajikistan warding off a simulated attack by terrorists, Russia's Channel One reported. The four countries' interior ministers attended. Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev commented, "Every terrorist organization should realize that the CIS countries are a dependable union of the like-minded, of professionals, that are ready today to stand in defense of the CIS." DK
TAJIK OFFICIAL SAYS UZBEKISTAN HAD 'NO RIGHT' TO MINE BORDER
Major General Safarali Sayfulloev, chief of staff of Tajikistan's State Border Committee, told a news conference in Dushanbe on April 21 that Uzbekistan "had no right to mine the border with Tajikistan until it is delimited," Avesta reported. Noting that 69 people have been killed by mines on the border since 2000, Sayfulloev said that the Tajik side does not have any official confirmation that Uzbekistan has begun clearing mines along the border. An Uzbek official stated in October 2005 that Uzbekistan had begun clearing the mines (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 21, 2005), which it began laying in 1999 to prevent extremist incursions. DK
TURKMEN PRESIDENT SETS OIL, GAS PRODUCTION TARGETS FOR 2006
Saparmurat Niyazov told a cabinet meeting on April 20 that the country should produce 10 million tons of oil and 80 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2006, turkmenistan.ru reported the next day. According to official statistics, Turkmenistan produced 9.5 million tons of oil and 63 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2005 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 12, 2006). Noting that a number of high-ranking officials in the oil and gas sector were jailed for embezzlement in 2005, Niyazov urged the sector's current managers to work better, Turkmen television reported. DK
FORMER ENVOY SAYS WEST GOT INFO FROM UZBEK TORTURE
Craig Murray, the United Kingdom's former ambassador to Uzbekistan, has told a European Parliament committee that the United States, United Kingdom, and Germany received information obtained under torture from Uzbekistan's intelligence agencies and that Germany may be continuing the practice, UPI reported on April 21. Murray said, "I can attest to the willingness of the U.S. and U.K. to obtain intelligence that was got under torture in Uzbekistan," "The New York Times" reported. Murray also stated, "I am not aware of the CIA sharing intelligence with other European services but I know that Germany, in particular, had close links with the Uzbek intelligence security services and I believe that is still happening." Murray's testimony, which came in the course of a European Parliament investigation of alleged CIA "rendition" flights through Europe, prompted German parliamentarians to call for an investigation, Deutsche Welle reported. DK
UZBEKISTAN LOOKS TO CLOSE AMERICAN BAR ASSOCIATION
Uzbekistan's Justice Ministry has filed a motion with a civil court to close the American Bar Association's Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative (ABA/CEELI) office in Uzbekistan, RIA Novosti reported on April 22. The ministry is arguing that ABA/CEELI has failed to correct violations discovered during a previous audit. ABA/CEELI, which has worked in Uzbekistan since 1995, is one of the few remaining Western NGOs operating in the country. According to the organization's website (http://www.abanet.org/ceeli/home.html), ABA/CEELI "advances the rule of law by supporting the law-reform process in Central and Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and the Middle East." DK
BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT WANTS TO DEVELOP ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH IRAN
Alyaksandr Lukashenka told Iranian Commerce Minister Masud Mir-Kazemi in Minsk on April 21 that Belarus plans to expand its trade and economic cooperation with Iran, Belapan reported. Lukashenka emphasized that the current volume of bilateral trade does not correspond to the economic potential of the two countries. Bilateral trade amounted to $38.4 million last year, with Belarus's exports totaling $35.6 million. Belarus supplies MAZ truck kits to an assembly plant in Iran and is in talks for opening a similar assembly facility for MTZ tractors. The country also supplies Iran with road-construction equipment and petrochemical products. JM
BELARUS RECEIVES S-300 MISSILE SYSTEM FROM RUSSIA
The first of the four S-300 surface-to-air missile systems that Russia has contracted to supply to Belarus arrived in Minsk on April 21, Belapan reported, quoting Belarusian Defense Minister Leanid Maltsau. Maltsau added that the remaining three system will be delivered until the end of this year. The systems, which will reportedly include 24 launchers, are expected to be used in a common air defense system currently created by Belarus and Russia to guard Belarus's western borders. Maltsau denied a report earlier this month by Jane's Intelligence Digest suggesting that Belarus may reexport S-300 missile systems to Iran. "Under the contract for the delivery of the S-300s from Russia, Belarus does not have the right to transfer these systems anywhere else," he said. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Minsk the same day that he hopes an agreement establishing a common air defense command of Belarus and Russia will be signed this year. Ivanov explained that under the accord, the command will be able to deploy aircraft and air-defense systems across the Belarusian-Russian border without waiting for "political decisions" to that effect. JM
BELARUSIAN PRIME MINISTER VISITS CUBA
Syarhey Sidorski met with Cuban leader Fidel Castro at the Revolution Palace in Havana on April 21, Belapan reported. Sidorski told journalists in Havana the previous day that Belarus had been invited to participate in a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement scheduled to take place in the Cuban capital this coming fall. Sidorski also noted that Belarus would like to actively develop economic relations with Cuba. Belarus exports mainly trucks and tractors to Cuba and imports raw sugar from there. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER SAYS CIS IS 'INEFFECTIVE'
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Moscow on April 21 that the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is an "ineffective" organization, Interfax reported. Tarasyuk was speaking after a meeting of foreign ministers of the 12-member post-Soviet bloc. Tarasyuk said three delegations at the meeting raised the problem of "trade wars" within the CIS but the issue was not included on the agenda. "This shows that the CIS does not react to situations that are sensitive to CIS member states, for example, the [Russian] ban on importing wines from three CIS countries, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia," Tarasyuk said. The CIS ministers also declined to put on their agenda a Ukrainian request to recognize the 1932-33 man-made famine in Ukraine as genocide. Tarasyuk said the request was rejected by Russia and four other nations (Belarus, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan), while Georgia, Moldova, and Azerbaijan supported it. The others -- Armenia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan -- abstained. JM
HOMEMADE BOMBS INJURE 14 AT TWO UKRAINIAN SUPERMARKETS
Two homemade bombs exploded at two supermarkets in Ukraine's second-largest city, Kharkiv, on April 22, injuring 14 people, Ukrainian and world news agencies reported. Police sources said initial indications suggest the blasts were linked to a settling of scores between businesses. Doctors said there were no serious injuries in the blasts, which occurred within minutes around noon in the two suburban supermarkets situated some 1 kilometer apart. JM
KOSOVAR PRESIDENT ATTENDS EASTER SERVICES...
In a gesture of reconciliation to Kosova's ethnic Serbian minority, President Fatmir Sejdiu attended an Orthodox Christian Easter service on April 23, Reuters reported the same day. "I have come here because all citizens must be respected," Sejdiu, who is a Muslim, said at the 14th-century monastery in Decani. "The doors to the Decani monastery are always open to people of goodwill and who bring the message of peace," Decani Bishop Teodosije said. Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku also attempted to attend an Easter service, but was told he was not welcome. Bishop Artemije, the head of the Orthodox Church in Kosova, denied Ceku's request to attend services at the monastery in Gracanica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 21, 2006). BW
...AS SERBIAN PATRIARCH CALLS FOR PEACE IN KOSOVA
In his Easter message on April 23, Patriarch Pavle, the leader of the Serbian Orthodox Church, urged the Serbian minority to remain in Kosova, AP reported the same day. In a sermon delivered at St. Sava Cathedral in Belgrade, Pavle said that Serbs should "stay in their ancestral land" despite "going through terrible suffering and living in uncertainty" as UN-backed talks continue on the province's final status. The 91-year-old Pavle also called for peace in Kosova, denounced abortion, and suggested that a return to "Christian biblical values" could address the world's ecological concerns. BW
U.S. URGES BOSNIA TO REFORM PRESIDENCY
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns on April 21 urged Bosnia-Herzegovina to replace its rotating tripartite presidency with a single president, AP reported the same day. "We think that Bosnia has to become a normal democratic society," Burns, who oversees Washington's Balkan policy, said at a meeting with Bosnia's High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling. Burns added that a major step in that direction would involve replacing the current presidency -- in which the chairmanship rotates among the Muslim, Serbian, and Croatian members -- with a single executive. On March 18, political leaders from Bosnia's ethnic communities agreed to a constitutional reform that will establish a single president and two vice presidents (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 20, 2006). BW
FORMER SERBIAN SUPREME COURT JUDGE RELEASED FROM JAIL
The Serbian special prosecutor's office is protesting a court's decision to release former Supreme Court Judge Ljubomir Vuckovic from pretrial custody, B92 reported on April 21. "We will file a complaint to the Serbian Supreme Court regarding this decision," prosecutor's office spokesman Tomo Zoric said. Vuckovic was arrested in September, and is accused of accepting a bribe to reverse the conviction of an alleged organized crime leader (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 15, 2005). He pled not guilty to the charges in March. In releasing Vuckovic from pretrial detention, the court cited the slow pace of the special prosecutor's investigation. BW
MOLDOVAN LAWMAKERS ACCUSE RUSSIA OF POLITICIZING WINE IMPORTS
In a joint statement released on April 21, Moldovan legislators accused their Russian counterparts of politicizing the ongoing dispute between Chisinau and Moscow over wine imports, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "It is necessary to stop any attempts by certain political forces in Russia to lend a political tinge to this situation and harm traditional cooperation between the two countries," the statement said. Russia banned the import of Moldovan and Georgian wines on March 27, citing health and safety concerns (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 28, 2006). On April 19, Russia's State Duma passed a resolution in support of the ban. For Moldovans, the Duma's move confirmed suspicions that the ban was politically motivated. BW
OFFICIAL RUSSIA'S DUBIOUS DEFENSE OF THE VULNERABLE
Russian officialdom has officially thrown itself into the fight against racist violence. Against a mounting backdrop of xenophobic murders and attacks, authorities have sought to beat back the hate. But the campaign has a political subtext that raises questions about its real goals. Moreover, the most widespread abuses that afflict ethnic and other minorities in Russia are continuing unabated.
This year has seen a rash of racially motivated incidents in major cities. Stabbings in a Moscow synagogue in January. Deadly attacks on African students in February and April. In March, assailants beat and stabbed a 9-year-old mixed-race girl to death. In April, a cultural official from Russia's North Caucasus region was beaten by a group of youths shouting nationalist slogans.
The attacks garnered high-profile coverage in the Russia media. And officials, who frequently downplay the dangers of racist violence, have taken action.
On March 22, a jury in St. Petersburg found seven defendants guilty only of "hooliganism" in the 2004 stabbing death of a 9-year-old Tajik girl, Khursheda Sultonova. But this time, prosecutors appealed what critics derided as a typical example of lax prosecution of hate crimes in Russia. In another case, federal prosecutors stepped in to request that hate-crime charges be filed. Members of the Public Chamber, a recently created consultative body, warned at an April 14 meeting that "the problem of racial intolerance in the country has recently acquired particular urgency," Russia's First Channel reported.
But some official actions in the fight against violent xenophobia have sent an oddly mixed message.
Some in the opposition have dismissed as a publicity stunt an "antifascist pact" signed by a number of political parties in February. Signatories had included Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), which has effectively mixed xenophobic rhetoric in the public arena with pro-Kremlin votes in parliament for years. Opposition Yabloko First Deputy Chairman Sergei Ivanenko said that another signatory, the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party, had not taken "any concrete steps aimed at combating fascism and xenophobia."
Meanwhile, seemingly sanctioned "antifascist" rhetoric -- particularly as trumpeted by the Kremlin-sponsored youth movement Nashi -- has tended to fixate on vocal foes of the Kremlin. That has deepened doubts about the campaign's sincerity. Nashi and its senior leadership have also been linked to soccer hooligan organizations noted for their street-fighting proclivities and ties to avowedly xenophobic skinhead groups.
Political maneuvering aside, Russia is a richly multiethnic society with a potentially dangerous capacity for xenophobic conflicts. One divide runs between Christian ethnic Russians and the primarily Muslim peoples of the North Caucasus, where the Chechen conflict continues to simmer at a low boil. Another sizable, identifiable minority comprises migrants -- most of them from Central Asia and the Caucasus. A recent UN study released found that Russia in 2005 was home to the second-largest number of migrants in the world, 12.1 million.
Racist violence is one of many perils that face migrant workers in Russia. The murder of 9-year-old Sultonova garnered considerable media attention despite a St. Petersburg court's "hooliganism" verdict on the case. But as Davlat Khudonazarov, a filmmaker and former presidential candidate in Tajikistan, wrote in "Izvestia" on March 24, hundreds of Tajik migrant workers in Russia each year "die on construction sites, the roads, [or] fall victim to skinheads, crime, and the police."
Statistics vary on the numbers of deaths. Tajikistan's Interior Ministry announced that 246 Tajik citizens died in Russia in the first 11 months of 2005, utro.ru reported on December 3, 2005, with 115 succumbing to illness, 99 killed in accidents, 36 murdered, and six cases unresolved. Khudonazarov put the number of Tajiks who die in Russia each year at 600-700. An April 5 report by Russia's TV-Tsentr claimed that "each year more than 2,000 migrant workers return to Tajikistan in coffins." Karomat Sharipov, head of the Tajik League, told TV-Tsentr, "On the way from Domodedovo Airport in Moscow in 2003, 125 Tajiks vanished. Look at the distance -- it's 22 kilometers. This is real. It happens every day."
The collapse of a Moscow market on February 23 vividly illustrated the prevalence of migrant labor in the lower echelons of the Russian economy. After the disaster, the Emergency Situations Ministry announced that the 66 dead included 45 Azerbaijanis, eight Georgians, six Tajiks, three Uzbeks, and three Russian citizens, globalrus.ru reported on February 26. Earlier that month, 12 Tajiks died in two separate fires in Russia, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported.
Migrants and minorities are vulnerable communities, and recent events indicate that this is especially true in Russia. Racism and xenophobia might arguably be the most disturbing of the threats they face. But police corruption, spotty medical care, inadequately defended rights, and an aging infrastructure take a heavier toll.
Official efforts to raise awareness of hate crimes are a positive development, despite the subtext of political chicanery. If these efforts are genuine, perhaps they will extend to the less media-friendly -- but more pervasive -- ills that pose as great a danger to the Russian majority as they do to the migrants and minorities who are targeted by racists and xenophobes.
FOUR CANADIAN SOLDIERS KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
An explosive device hit a Canadian patrol vehicle in Shah Wali Kot District of Kandahar Province on April 22 killing four soldiers, international news agencies reported. According to a Canadian military spokesman the explosion was detonated by a technically advanced remote-controlled device, "The New York Times," reported on April 23. Unidentified members of a family from Gumbad, a village where the Canadians operate, told the newspaper on April 22 that residents of their village organized the attack on the Canadians in retaliation for what they said was the disrespectful behavior of the Canadians. "I am an educated person, and I know a bit about how they do things, but I am getting angry when they are bringing dogs to my mosque and to my house," an unidentified elder from Gumbad said, adding that if he had the courage, he would attack the Canadians as well. The military spokesman doubted the villagers claim, saying that the device's sophistication was likely beyond their means. He also said the Canadian forces have not received complaints from the villagers. Since the Canadian military deployment in Afghanistan in early 2002, 15 soldiers and one diplomat have been killed, CanWest News Service reported on April 23. AT
BRITISH DEFENSE SECRETARY SAYS TROOPS TO REMAIN IN AFGHANISTAN FOR THREE YEARS
John Reid arrived in Kabul on April 23 ahead of his country taking command of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in May, the BBC reported. Reid met with his Afghan counterpart, General Abdul Rahim Wardak. Reid said that the role of the United Kingdom in Afghanistan, which he said would last for at least three years, is to provide security and assist in reconstructing the country. By June around 3,300 British troops are scheduled to take control from the United States of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand Province in Afghanistan's restive south. Reid termed rumors that he has requested an additional 600 troops for the Helmand PRT as "absolutely and completely untrue." According to Reid, the role of British troops serving with ISAF will differ greatly from the function of the U.S.-led coalition forces whose mission was to "go and chase and kill" terrorists. Reid said that the "greatest danger" both to the people of Afghanistan and people of the U.K. would be if the Taliban regime returned to power. AT
AFGHAN PRESIDENT MAKES 'HISTORIC' VISIT TO NORTHWESTERN PROVINCE
Hamid Karzai visited Badghis Province on April 22, where he laid the foundation stone of a new regional hospital and inaugurated a bridge, a press release from the presidential spokesman's office said. Terming the visit "historic," the statement added that Karzai became "the first leader of Afghanistan" to visit Badghis. The hospital will be built by Spain. During his sojourn in Badghis, Karzai visited the Spanish-led PRT in that province and thanked the Spanish government for its support. AT
IRAN DETERMINED TO CONTINUE NUCLEAR ACTIVITIES
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Assefi said on 23 April in his weekly press conference in Tehran that the Islamic Republic will not reverse course on uranium enrichment or its other nuclear activities, Radio Farda and state television reported. "We are determined not to forfeit our rights," he said. "The [nuclear] research will continue. The issue of suspension is not on the agenda. The issue is irreversible, be it for one hour, one minute, or one second. It is irreversible." He added that no agreement has been reached regarding Moscow's proposal that Iran enrich uranium on Russian soil, and he complained that great powers are pressuring the International Atomic Energy Agency to judge the Iranian nuclear program negatively. The previous day, Assefi noted Western support for the monarchy's nuclear efforts and complained of double standards, IRNA reported. He ascribed Western opposition to hostility to Iran's independence, and added, "They say because Iran is a defendant of Palestinian rights and...oppressed nations, it should not have access to nuclear technology." BS
NUCLEAR CONTROVERSY AND ELECTIONS UNITE MARGINALIZED IRANIAN PARTIES
Former Vice President for Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Assefi wrote in his Webnevesht blog that the recent meeting of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front and the conservative Islamic Coalition Party did not make sense to him, "Etemad" reported on April 22. He therefore contacted the secretary-general of the Participation Front, Mohammad Reza Khatami, who explained that the meeting related to the nuclear issue. Khatami said the government has forbidden parties from writing about this subject, so they reformists had to convey their concerns to the conservatives in a meeting. Khatami expressed the hope that the executive branch will be made aware of these concerns. An April 18 report in "Etemad" discussed the same meeting, noting that the nuclear issue is bringing parties together. The marginalization of the reformists and the more traditional conservatives, furthermore, is bringing them together as the Assembly of Experts and municipal council elections approach. BS
IRANIAN SPOKESMAN: WOMEN'S RIGHTS NOT 'REALISTIC'
Foreign Ministry spokesman Assefi said on 22 April in Karaj that the Western perspective on some issues, such as the rights of women and religious minorities, are not "realistic," IRNA reported. Assefi added, "The West, which espouses feminist views, in fact propagates competing roles between men and women, which is unethical." Assefi complained that the rights of women and religious minorities are being manipulated in the international arena for political purposes. BS
YOUNG IRANIANS URGED TO LOWER EXPECTATIONS ABOUT SPOUSES
Ayatollah Ali Amini, the Friday prayer leader in Qom, said in his April 21 sermon that official "marriage consultation centers" should be established in Iran, state television reported. Young people should register at these centers to find a suitable mate, and he advised the youth to lower their expectations. BS
TEHRAN HAILS POLITICAL DEVELOPMENTS IN BAGHDAD
Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki on 23 April congratulated Iraq on the establishment of a permanent government, IRNA reported. Mottaki called for solidarity on the part of all Iraqi political parties, promised Iranian support, and called on the international community to help Iraq in order to hasten the withdrawal of occupation forces. The Iranian Foreign Ministry has promoted Hassan Kazemi-Qomi, the charge d'affaires in Baghdad, to the rank of ambassador on April 22, Mehr news agency reported. BS
IRANIAN TRUCK CARRYING DANGEROUS SUBSTANCE REPORTEDLY STOPPED IN UZBEKISTAN
Uzbek customs officers noted on April 22 that a truck with Iranian license plates and driven by an Iranian had a great deal of zinc powder in it, state television reported. An analysis of the powder by public health experts and personnel from the Institute of Nuclear Physics found a dangerous substance, and Uzbek television noted that failure to declare radioactive substances on customs forms and travel documents is a prosecutable offense. Zinc powder can be used in making ointments, creams, and lotions as well as in the manufacture of rubber goods. It also has a nuclear application. There is a risk of fire and/or explosion if zinc powder comes in contact with certain other elements. BS
IRAQ'S MAIN SHI'ITE ALLIANCE NAMES NEW PRIME MINISTER-ELECT
The United Iraqi Alliance (UIA) nominated a leading member of the Islamic Al-Da'wah Party as prime minister on April 22, Al-Sharqiyah television reported. UIA leader Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim told reporters at an April 22 press briefing in Baghdad that Jawad al-Maliki, a founding member of Al-Da'wah and a longtime aide of outgoing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja'fari, is the alliance's new nominee. Speaking to reporters at the announcement, al-Maliki said he intends to form a government within the 30 days allotted under the constitution. He said the cabinet will not be formed along ethnic, sectarian, or party lines. "Those who will join the new government should realize that they are the ministers of the people and the homeland, and not the party. Second, ministers should have great efficiency, sincerity, and honesty in order to work as part of a team that will confront the developments and challenges" of the government, he said. Al-Maliki added that he will choose ministers according to their relevant qualifications and professionalism. KR
IRAQ'S PARLIAMENT NAMES SPEAKER, DEPUTIES...
The Iraqi National Assembly's Council of Representatives convened on April 22 and elected a founding member of the Iraqi Front for National Dialogue as the new speaker of parliament, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Mahmud al-Mashhadani was unchallenged as the nominee to the position after Salih al-Mutlaq, another founding member of the front, withdrew his candidacy. Al-Mashhadani received 159 of 256 votes, while the other 97 ballots cast were blank. The parliament elected Shi'ite leader Sheikh Khalid al-Atiyah as first deputy speaker, and Kurdistan Democratic Party member Arif Tayfur as second deputy speaker. Two hundred sixty-six parliamentarians out of 275 attended the session. KR
...AND REELECTS TALABANI PRESIDENT
The Council of Representatives reelected Jalal Talabani as president in its April 22 session, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Talabani's list for the three-member Presidency Council received 198 of the 255 votes, according to speaker al-Mashhadani, who supervised the ballot count. Fifty-seven parliamentarians cast blank ballots. Shi'ite leader al-Mahdi, who served as vice president in the transitional government, was reelected to his position, and Tariq al-Hashimi, head of the Sunni-led Iraqi Islamic Party, was elected second vice president. Addressing the parliament after being sworn in on April 22, Talabani thanked former Prime Ministers Iyad Allawi and al-Ja'fari for their hard work, which he said was achieved under very difficult circumstances. Talabani said the new Iraqi government will strive to establish solid relations with the Arab and Islamic world. He called on Iraqis to place the country's interests above the interests of "party, group, sectarian, ethnic, and personal interests." He added: "I pledge to work, united with others, for the sake of a new Iraq; a democratic, federal, unified, independent, and prosperous Iraq." KR
PRIME MINISTER-DESIGNATE VOWS TO INTEGRATE MILITIAS INTO ARMY...
Jawad al-Maliki told reporters at an April 22 press briefing that followed the parliament session that the incoming government will take steps to integrate Iraqi militias into the armed forces, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. "Law No. 91 will take care of integrating [militias] into the armed forces according to rules that don't downplay the rights of those who struggled against the dictatorship," he said. Al-Maliki said that 11 militias affiliated with parties and political forces are named in the law, which was drafted by the Coalition Provisional Authority in June 2004. The Muslim Scholars Association has already criticized the statement. Al-Maliki "announced that he will merge militias with the security forces instead of bringing those who committed crimes and atrocities to justice," Association member Muhammad Bashar Amin told the "Los Angeles Times," latimes.com reported on April 24. "Thousands of Iraqis have been killed by those militias," he added. KR
...AS U.S. AMBASSADOR SAYS MILITIAS WILL BE REINED IN
U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters in Irbil on April 23 that he expects the issue of militias to be resolved by the next government, RFE/RL's Radio Free Iraq reported. Responding to a question about al-Maliki's statement on militias, Khalilzad told reporters: "Unauthorized military formations are the infrastructure of a civil war. I have been encouraged again through my conversations with Prime Minister-designate al-Maliki that he will focus on this issue. And that there is a need for a decommissioning, demobilization, and reintegration plan for these unauthorized military formations so that the monopoly of use of force will be in the hands of authorized people in the Iraqi government." KR