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Newsline - August 10, 2006


RUSSIAN-ALGERIAN DEAL TRIGGERS EUROPEAN CONCERNS OVER NATURAL-GAS DEPENDENCY
Italian Energy Minister Pier Luigi Bersani wrote in a letter to EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs on August 9 that a recent deal between Russia's Gazprom and Algeria's Sonatrach will increase Europe's dependence on natural-gas supplies from a limited number of countries, the online analytical publication "Stratfor Commentary" reported. The two companies could cooperate in a number of areas, including setting prices, which would "leave Europe at the mercy of two of its three natural-gas suppliers," the publication noted. President Vladimir Putin's visit to Algeria in March gave new impetus to relations between the two major gas producers (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 14, 2006, and "Russia: Energy, Weapons Bring Moscow Closer To Algiers," rferl.org, March 10, 2006). PM

GAZPROM HEAD TALKS WITH UKRAINIAN MINISTER
Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told reporters in Moscow on August 9 that talks between Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller and Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Boyko "considered current issues regarding cooperation in the gas sector," RIA Novosti reported (see "Ukraine: Gas Test Awaits New Government," rferl.org, August 9, 2006). It is not clear what, if anything, resulted from the talks. Ukrainian Ambassador to Russia Oleh Dyomin denied any knowledge of Boyko's visit, saying that "perhaps he is making a private trip." Boyko is the former head of Naftohaz Ukrayiny, which is Ukraine's principal oil and gas company. The rise of Party of Regions head Viktor Yanukovych to the post of Ukrainian prime minister has led to speculation that the new political climate there could result in Russian concessions when gas negotiations resume. The Party of Regions is widely considered to be pro-Russia, which in turn was seen as a Yanukovych supporter during his 2004 presidential run. But "Novye izvestia" commented on August 9 that "Ukraine's new prime minister is not as pro-Russian as he once was." PM

BOEING LOOKS AT POSSIBLE IMPACT OF SANCTIONS
Sergei Kravchenko, who is Boeing's chief representative for Russia and CIS-member states, told Reuters in Moscow on August 9 that his company is reviewing the possible impact of recently announced U.S. sanctions against Russia's main arms exporter, Rosoboroneksport, and the aircraft manufacturer Sukhoi for alleged violations of the Iran Nonproliferation Act of 2000 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7 and 8, 2006). Kravchenko said that the purpose of the review is "to ensure that Boeing...will be in full compliance with all the requirements of U.S. government and Russian legislation. However, until we complete our assessment, we will not know what impact, if any, there will be on Boeing's business in Russia." Boeing gets up to 40 percent of its titanium from VSMPO-Avisma, which Rosoboroneksport is seeking to acquire. Sukhoi and Boeing have been cooperating to develop a 100-seat regional aircraft. RIA Novosti on August 9 quoted an unnamed U.S. Boeing official in Moscow as saying that the deal with Sukhoi will not be affected by the sanctions because Boeing is only serving as an adviser. The Moscow weekly "Argumenty i fakty" wrote on August 9 that Rosoboroneksport and Sukhoi are both "surprised" at charges "that amount to selling weapons of mass destruction to Iran." PM

U.S. SAILOR CHARGED WITH SPYING FOR RUSSIA
A 21-year-old U.S. sailor from the submarine "USS Albuquerque" has been charged with espionage after allegedly trying to pass classified information to foreign agents, international news agencies reported on August 10. U.S. defense officials said Petty Officer Ariel Weinmann was working on behalf of Russia when he tried to pass information to foreign agents in Bahrain, Austria, and Mexico in 2005-06. Weinmann deserted his navy post in 2005. He was detained in March 2006 when he tried to reenter the United States and has since been held in Norfolk, Virginia. "The Washington Post" reported that "Weinmann is charged with desertion, failure to obey a general order, espionage, illegally copying classified information, destruction of government property, and larceny." PM

ORTHODOX, MUSLIM LEADERS SLAM MADONNA CONCERT
As fans flock to buy tickets ranging from $56 to $935 for pop singer Madonna's September 11 Moscow concert, leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church and the Islamic community called on believers on August 8 not to attend the event, which reportedly includes a segment in which she is "crucified," RIA Novosti reported. Vsevolod Chaplin, who heads the Moscow Patriarchy's department for external relations, said that "for an Orthodox believer, there is no point in attending [Madonna's] concerts or helping her propagate her spiritual problems via self-advertisement." Damir Gizatullin, who is deputy head of Russia's Council of Muftis, said of the concert that "this is in conflict with the traditions of our people. Such things do not do credit to people like Madonna." He added that "Islamic believers in Russia will not support Madonna's show, and she will not be a success here, contrary to her expectations." Rushan Abbyasov, whom the news agency identified as an Islamic official, said that people in a democratic country have a right to choose whether to attend the concert. He added, however, that "practicing Muslims will not go," saying that Islam does not encourage women to appear on stage "in an improper manner." She is expected to arrive in Moscow with 200 metric tons of stage equipment in 57 trucks, a staff of 200, and 27 on-stage performers. PM

ONE KILLED, 11 INJURED IN ATTACK ON PROSECUTOR IN INGUSHETIA
A series of bomb explosions on August 10 outside the home of Gerikhan Khazbiyev, a district prosecutor in Nazran, the biggest town in Ingushetia, left his younger brother Adam dead and 11 of his relatives injured, four of them seriously, Interfax reported. The prosecutor himself was not hurt. Ingushetian deputy prosecutor Dmitry Gurulev told the news agency that his office has opened a criminal case involving charges of terrorism, murder, preparing a crime, making an attempt on the life of an official of the judicial or prosecution agencies or engaged in investigative activities, and illegal use of weapons. An unnamed Ingushetian Interior Ministry source told the news agency that the authorities are following several leads, including the possibility that the attack was in retribution for the recent death of Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," July 14, 2006). PM

CHECHEN LEADER HAILS PUTIN PROPOSAL ON WITHDRAWAL
In Grozny on August 9, Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov welcomed a proposal by President Putin to remove all "nonpermanent troops" from the war-torn republic by 2008, Interfax reported. Kadyrov said that this will help Chechnya's "law enforcement organs" become "war-capable units." On August 2, Putin instructed the Defense and Interior ministries to come up with a plan for reducing the number of Russian servicemen in Chechnya. The order was made public by the official state newspaper "Rossiiskaya gazeta" on August 8. Some observers say a withdrawal, if it is indeed substantial, would boost the influence of Kadyrov's own security force, which human rights activists accuse of widespread abuses. The Moscow daily "Kommersant" wrote on August 10 that "Putin is leaving Chechnya to Ramzan." PM

CENTRAL BANK COMMENTS ON ARMENIAN CURRENCY APPRECIATION
The head of the Armenian Central Bank's statistics department, Karine Karapetian, commented on August 9 on concerns over the recent appreciation of the dram, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Noyan Tapan reported. Karapetian released the findings of a recent household survey that tended to bolster Central Bank assertions that most Armenians are not dependent on the influx of external, largely dollar-denominated cash remittances for daily living expenses and thereby not particularly suffering from the dollar's sharp depreciation. The findings showed that only 37 percent of Armenian families regularly rely on hard-currency remittances, with a majority characterized as middle class, contrary to the widely held belief that the vast majority of beneficiaries of the remittances are lower-income citizens. The steady rise in the value of the dram, now at an average rate of 400 drams to the dollar, has sparked some accusations that the Central Bank was engaged in manipulating the exchange rate, although officials of both the Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund have argued that the currency's appreciation is largely due to a sizable increase in the level of remittance flows (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2006). RG

REPUTED ARMENIAN CRIME FIGURE GUNNED DOWN
Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the Armenian Prosecutor-General's Office, announced on August 9 that a notorious criminal figure was killed the day before by unknown gunmen outside of Yerevan, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Aleksandr Givoev was shot on August 8 while stopped at a roadside market on a major highway while driving his family to the northern city of Gyumri. A woman working at the market was also killed by a stray bullet fired from what police described as a stolen car used by the gunmen. Police later discovered the car used in the killing, but have not yet made any arrests. Givoev, an ethnic Assyrian businessman reputed to have close links to the Russian criminal underworld, has served since 2000 as the head of a nongovernmental organization advocating for the protection of children's rights. RG

ARMENIAN TELECOMMUNICATIONS OFFICIALS BLAME GEORGIA FOR DISRUPTING INTERNET SERVICE TO ARMENIA
Hasmik Chutilyan, an official of Armenia's ArmenTel telecommunications firm, accused Georgia on August 9 of having "switched off" hardware maintaining Armenia's access to the Internet, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Regnum reported. Chutilyan added that "the connection has just been interrupted on Georgian territory, which is hard to interpret at the moment," but noted that limited Internet service in Armenia had been restored using a satellite link while work is under way to repair an undersea Black Sea fiber-optic cable, according to Caucasus Press. The ArmenTel firm, which holds the exclusive right to provide international telecommunications in Armenia, reported that the Internet outage was first triggered on August 4 by damage to a fiber-optic cable running through the Georgian Kutaisi region and then compounded by a separate disruption to the Black Sea cable on August 5 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7 and 8, 2006). RG

OPPOSITION JOURNALIST ACCUSES ARMENIAN POLICE OF HARASSMENT
Gagik Samshian, a journalist affiliated with an Armenian opposition newspaper, accused police on August 9 of intimidation and harassment by launching a criminal investigation related to his dispute with an influential local government chief, RFE/RL's Armenian Service and Arminfo reported. The journalist, working with the opposition "Chorord Ishkhanutiun" (The Fourth Power) newspaper, asserted that officers of the Nubarashen police station are targeting him in retaliation for his refusal to retract incriminating testimony against the brother of Nubarashen Mayor Mher Hovannisian, who was charged with assaulting the journalist in an attack on July 12. The Prosecutor-General's Office has also filed undefined criminal charges against the journalist, and seized his passport, computer files, and personal papers during a search of his home. RG

AZERBAIJANI COURT DENIES MOTION BY LAWYERS FOR JAILED FORMER OFFICIAL
Azerbaijani Nasimi District Court Justice Hilal Halilov ruled on August 9 to reject a motion by defense lawyers for jailed former presidential-administration official Akif Muradverdiyev appealing for his transfer to home detention on medical grounds, Turan reported. Muradverdiyev was arrested in October 2005 on charges of complicity in an attempted coup attempt allegedly organized by former Health Minister Ali Insanov and Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliyev (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," October 31, 2005). Another co-defendant, former Finance Minister Fikret Yusifov, was sentenced on August 2 by the same court to an 18-month prison term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 3, 2006). RG

ABKHAZ FOREIGN MINISTER OFFERS MUTUAL WITHDRAWAL FROM KODORI GORGE
Sergei Shamba offered a new proposal on August 9 calling for the mutual withdrawal of Abkhaz and Georgian troops from the Kodori Gorge, Rustavi-2 television reported. Noting a need to reduce tension in the region, Shamba said that "we are ready to consider the issue of withdrawal" and suggested that "if [Georgian] troops are withdrawn from the Kodori Gorge, we will also withdraw our troops." RG

GEORGIAN MINISTER COMMENTS ON SITUATION IN KODORI GORGE
Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava held a briefing in Tbilisi on August 9 on the current situation in the Kodori Gorge for a number of military attaches assigned to foreign embassies, Caucasus Press reported. He said that the situation in the area is "stable" and reported that the only new Georgian military deployment was the assignment of two platoons of an engineer battalion to repair 10 bridges in the gorge. Kudava also admitted that representatives of the Defense Ministry are engaged in actively recruiting local residents in the Kodori Gorge to form a new "volunteer unit." The formation of such a unit was first announced on August 7 by Defense Minister Irakli Okruashvili (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). RG

KAZAKH AIRLINE DENIES REPORTS OF AFRICAN ARMS SHIPMENT
Vladimir Kuropatenko, the president of Sayakhat Airlines, told a news conference in Almaty on August 9 that media reports of an arms shipment delivered to Somali Islamist forces by Sayakhat are "slander and absolute lies," Interfax reported. AP had reported on July 26 that its correspondent in Mogadishu saw an Ilyushin-76 bearing a Kazakh flag on the aircraft's tail land in the Somali capital. But Kuropatenko said that two Sayakhat aircraft identified in media reports as possibly landing in Somalia on June 26 and 28 did not fly on those dates. "Sayakhat Airlines' aircraft 76734 and 76442 had traveled from China to Uralsk, where they landed on June 25 and did not take off until June 30," he said. Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry recently issued a similar denial of Kazakh involvement in arms shipments to Somalia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). DK

RUSSIA SAYS KAZAKHSTAN ASKS TOO MUCH FOR ROCKET DAMAGES
Igor Panarin, a spokesman for the Russian space agency Roskosmos, told Interfax on August 9 that "the sums quoted by individual Kazakh officials" on damage from a July 26 rocket crash in Kazakhstan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 27 and August 9, 2006) "are at variance with the protocol signed by the Kazakh and Russian governmental commissions." Panarin stressed that "the damage shall be assessed jointly by Kazakhstan and Russia in line with the earlier confirmed method, and the final sums will be named in early September." Ikram Adyrbekov, governor of Kazakhstan's Kyzylorda province, recently estimated damage from the crash at over $300 million (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 9, 2006). DK

KYRGYZ SECURITY FORCES INVESTIGATE SHOOTING OF IMAM
Investigators from Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB), Prosecutor-General's Office, and Interior Ministry will investigate the possibility that Kara-Suu imam Muhammadrafiq Kamalov (also known as Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin) was taken hostage by extremists and used as a human shield, Kabar reported on August 9. Kamoluddin was killed, along with two men identified by Kyrgyz authorities as suspected members of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), in a joint operation by Kyrgyz and Uzbek security forces in Osh on August 6 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). DK

CONFUSION SURROUNDS FATE OF UZBEK REFUGEES IN KYRGYZSTAN
Conflicting reports emerged on August 9 on the fate of four Uzbek refugees and one asylum seeker detained in the southern Kyrgyz city of Osh, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Reuters and ferghana.ru reported that the five had been extradited to Uzbekistan. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres called the reported forced return "an extremely serious violation of the 1951 Refugee Convention -- which Kyrgyzstan has ratified -- under which no refugees should be forcibly returned to their country of origin," Reuters reported. But Toktogul Kakchekeev, a spokesman for the Kyrgyz Prosecutor-General's Office, denied reports of the extradition, saying the matter was still under consideration, Kabar reported. The refugees, who fled Uzbekistan after violence in Andijon in May 2005, have been detained in Osh for over a year, with Uzbekistan attempting to secure their extradition. DK

LEADER OF TAJIK ISLAMIC PARTY DIES
Said Abdullo Nuri, head of Tajikistan's Islamic Renaissance Party (IRP), died in Dushanbe on August 9 after a long illness, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reported. Nuri, who was arrested by Soviet authorities in the 1970s for distributing Islamic literature, went on to become a leader in the United Tajik Opposition during the country's 1992-97 civil war. He was one of the signatories to the 1997 agreement that ended the war. DK

U.S. OFFICIAL MEETS WITH UZBEK PRESIDENT
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher met with Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on August 9, UzA reported. In a sign of a possible thaw in chilly U.S.-Uzbek relations, Uzbek television reported that Karimov told Boucher the visit was "a good chance to resolve important problems between the two countries." Karimov also told Boucher, "Your visit after a long interruption will provide a chance to develop our relations," ferghana.ru reported. Boucher told a news conference after the meeting, "Our views on observing human rights in Uzbekistan and about assessing the Andijon events differ," ITAR-TASS reported. "However, we are ready to cooperate with Tashkent in the fight against drug trafficking, threats of terrorism, and illegal distribution of arms," Boucher added. Noting the difficulties in current U.S.-Uzbek ties, Boucher said that a further deterioration could lead the United States to "take retaliatory measures," although he did not specify what those might be. Boucher also met with Uzbek Foreign Minister Vladimir Norov, as well as with unidentified members of Uzbekistan's political opposition and rights activist. No information was immediately available on the content of the talks. DK

MINSK-BASED COMPANIES INVEST MORE THAN $100 MILLION IN LOSING FARMS
Minsk-based enterprises invested 250 billion rubles ($116 million) in the agricultural sector in the past two years, Belapan reported on August 9, quoting Alyaksandr Lukashevich from the Minsk City Executive Committee. The investments followed the government's directive of 2004 allowing well-performing urban enterprises, including private ones, to take control of unprofitable collective farms. Lukashevich said a total of 140 loss-making farms in Minsk Oblast received aid from urban enterprises in the period. He added that the investments were meant to restore the farms to profitability but failed to disclose whether they actually achieved that goal. JM

UKRAINIAN RADIO STATION ASKS FOR PROBE INTO ATTACK ON EMPLOYEES
Nashe Radio (Our Radio) has appealed to President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, and Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko to take under personal control the investigation into an attack against three Nashe Radio employees, UNIAN reported on August 10. Nashe Radio Director Bohdan Bolkhovetskyy told journalists on August 10 that unidentified assailants, following a collision between their car and that of the Nashe Radio employees on a street in Kyiv on August 8, abducted the broadcasters and took them out of town. "The assailants demanded the return of a briefcase about which none of the kidnapped knew anything," Bolkhovetskyy said. "[The assailants] interrogated our men for four hours, got information about their relatives, and threatened to make short work of them. They beat one of our men, made him kneel down, and shot repeatedly over his head. Then they took [our men's] money and mobile phones and released them." JM

UKRAINE POSTS 11.4 PERCENT INDUSTRIAL GROWTH IN JULY
Ukraine's industrial output grew by 11.4 percent year-on-year in July and 4.8 percent year-on-year in January-July 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported on August 9, citing the State Statistics Committee. In 2005, Ukraine's industrial growth slowed down to 3.1 percent, compared to 12.5 percent in 2004. JM

CROATIA INVESTIGATES ALLEGED OPERATION STORM WAR CRIMES...
Police in Croatia are investigating whether war crimes were committed during a 1995 military actions in which Croatian forces retook part of the country from separatist rebel Serbs, Reuters and Hina reported on August 8. The probe is the result of a videotape shown last week on Serbian television purporting to show Croatian soldiers committing war crimes against Serbian civilians during Operation Storm in July 1995 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). The atrocities allegedly took place near Croatia's border with Bosnia-Herzegovina. "We will check all the facts and make investigations on the ground. We will also cooperate with Bosnian police if necessary," Hina quoted police spokesman Zlatko Mehun as saying. The video shows Croatian and Bosnian Muslim soldiers harassing and attacking convoys of fleeing Serbian refugees. It depicts soldiers yelling at Serbs, pushing them around, and killing one of them. BW

...AS SERBIA DEMANDS PROSECUTION OF BOSNIAN MUSLIM COMMANDER
Serbia demanded on August 8 that Bosnia-Herzegovina prosecute Atif Dudakovic, a prominent Muslim commander during the 1992-95 war, for alleged crimes against Serbian civilians during Croatia's 1995 Operation Storm, AP reported the same day. "Atif Dudakovic and other war criminals who committed war crimes against Serbs must be immediately arrested and must face justice for their crimes," the Serbian government said in a statement after a video showing the alleged atrocities was broadcast. "The recordings, which beyond any doubt testify about Dudakovic's misdeeds, represent evidence that must be taken as the basis for immediate action by police and the judiciary." The statement also urged Bosnian authorities to "act to bring war criminals to justice." Dudakovic, who commanded Bosnia's 5th Corps during the war, said on August 8 that he did not violate the Geneva Conventions and he never received any report that his soldiers did, AP reported. "I can say with full moral responsibility that members of the 5th Corps did not commit crimes. There may have been individual cases, but only individual," Dudakovic said in a televised interview. BW

SERBIA INDICTS TWO FOR 1992 MURDERS OF MUSLIM VILLAGERS
Serbia's war crimes prosecutor announced on August 9 that it has opened an investigation into the killings of 700 Bosnian Muslims by Serbian paramilitaries during the 1992-95 war, Reuters reported the same day. The two men named in the indictment, Bosnian Serb Branko Grujic and Serb Branko Popovic, were commanders of local "territorial defense units." They are accused of ordering the murders of 700 villagers in the vicinity of Zvornik in June 1992. "Some of those killings were extremely brutal," a spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutor said. "Twenty people died of suffocation because they were crowded in a very small room and heating was put on maximum." The two men are already on trial with five others for imprisoning, abusing, and murdering civilians in the area. BW

...AND BOSNIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SAYS ALL WAR CRIMES SHOULD BE TREATED EQUALLY
Bosnia-Herzegovina's Foreign Minister Mladen Ivanic said on August 8 that prosecutors have a moral duty to treat war crimes equally, regardless of the nationalities of the perpetrators and victims, AFP reported the next day. "All of those who have some footage or some knowledge, regardless of the victims' nationality, have a human and moral responsibility to deliver it to Bosnian prosecutors and the UN war crimes tribunal," Ivanic, a Bosnian Serb, said. He added that prosecutors must "treat all war crimes the same way." BW

RUSSIA SEEKS INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN MONTENEGRO
During a visit to Montenegro on August 9, Russian Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said Moscow is prepared to "intensify relations and all-round cooperation" with Podgorica, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. "There is a firm political, economic, and historical basis for cooperation between our two countries," Shoigu said during a meeting with Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in the Adriatic resort town of Sveti-Stefan. "It is possible to look into the future of Russo-Montenegrin relations with optimism." In a joint statement, Shoigu and Djukanovic lauded the "steady growth of Russian investments in Montenegro." Shoigu's overture to Montenegro followed on the heels of a similar call for closer relations with Serbia days earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 7, 2006). BW

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT HAPPY WITH KREMLIN MEETING
Speaking at a press conference in Chisinau on August 9, Vladimir Voronin said he is happy with the results of his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, RBC reported the same day. Putin and Voronin met in the Kremlin to discuss the Transdniester conflict and other bilateral issues (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 8, 2006). Voronin said that he received assurances from Putin that Russia respects Moldova's territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, and neutrality. The two also discussed ways to resolve bilateral issues, such as the Russian ban on Moldovan wine imports and the possibility of a long-term gas-supply contract. BW

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS MAJOR INVESTMENT IN KURILES
The Russian government has announced plans to make the Kurile Islands in the Pacific Ocean the best-funded region in Russia. The 2007-15 program will boost federal funding to more than $600 million -- the equivalent of $1,000 per person per month - on the sparsely populated islands.

The Kuriles, a string of rocky outcrops stretching south from the Kamchatka Peninsula to the Japanese island of Hokkaido, in the last decade has suffered the worst population decline in the Russian Federation -- a country deep in demographic crisis.

Sixty-one years after the Kuriles were seized from Japan by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II, scarcely 6,000 civilians still make a living on the islands. They are outnumbered by soldiers almost two to one.

But, says Russian Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref, enough is enough. His 17 billion-ruble program to develop the islands promises a transformation.

And not just in the economy. According to Dmitry Trenin, deputy director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Russia is sending an unequivocal message to Japan that the Kuriles are no longer up for negotiation. "The message is unambiguous: The limit of Russian potential concessions to Japan, which was made clear by both President [Vladimir] Putin and Foreign Minister Lavrov, would have Russia, in case of a peace treaty being signed with Japan, transferring the island of Shikotan and the Habomai group of islands to Japan," Trenin says. "That limit is now being confirmed by the development project."

Shikotan and the Habomai group, which form part of the southern Kuriles and are of little economic or strategic interest to Russia, were first offered to Japan in 1956 by the Soviet Union in an effort to reach agreement on a formal peace treaty pertaining to World War II. Tokyo didn't agree then and is unlikely to do so now. It insists on the return of all the Kurile Islands.

Japan refers to the islands as the Northern Territories. Even before Moscow's investment program was unveiled, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, speaking ahead of July's summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries in St. Petersburg, complained that the impasse over the islands was having a damaging effect on Japanese investment in Russia.

Why though has Moscow decided to act now? Trenin sees the plan as part of a wider attempt to address weaknesses along Russia's vast border. "It also sends I think a very clear signal that the exposed territories of the Russian state are now being taken care of and you look at Kaliningrad, which now has received much more attention than it was getting for many years; you look at the North Caucasus; and you look at the money which the government is about to spend on reconstructing Chechnya, and to me this is all part of the pattern," Trenin says.

The Kremlin must have considered, too, how the program will be received by Japan. "I suspect that this may in part be an effort to anticipate the change of leadership in Japan," says John Swenson-Wright, an expert on Japan and Northeast Asian security issues at Chatham House, a London-based international affairs think tank. "The prime minister [Koizumi] steps down in September. Some people have argued that there is growing nationalism in Japan and the Russians may be attempting to reassert their position in the face of what they anticipate may be a more hard-line position by whoever takes over as prime minister."

The strategy appears to be to present Japan with a fait accompli.

Until now, the future of the islands was kept in doubt by Moscow's apparent lack of interest and their isolation from the mainland. The only airport is too short for most aircraft. It was built by the Japanese for kamikaze pilots who showed little concern for the length of the landing strip.

That is about to change. By 2017 the Kuriles will have a new all-weather airport linking them with the mainland, a port, new roads, 20 fish-processing factories in place of the ramshackle pair that exist today, and, it is hoped, a precious-metals mining industry.

But, as Trenin argues, Moscow cannot afford to alienate the Japanese. "Japan is a significant player and the potential for Russian-Japanese collaboration is not to be ignored," he says. "The development of the Far East and Siberia is one of the most important, if not the most important geopolitical problem that Russia is facing in the 21st century and in order to have Japan as a bona fide partner you would have to give Japan something from the territories that they are claiming."

By putting facts on the ground -- like the airport and new infrastructure -- Russia may calculate that Japan will ultimately have little choice but to accept the reality of Russian sovereignty. But, says Swenson-Wright, Moscow may be misjudging the Japanese mood.

"The Russia-Japan relationship has always been one in which the economic incentives have been relatively limited in terms of swaying political and diplomatic opinion within the Japanese political establishment," Swenson-Wright says. "This is one bilateral relationship where economics have taken a back seat to these larger territorial and political issues. There is a great deal of emotional sensitivity on the part of the Japanese. The legacy of the war is still in many ways a live issue in the minds of Japanese negotiators and their political leaders."

Which, if he is right, may yet undermine the scheme for the regeneration of the islands. Federal investment is undoubtedly needed, but without private investment from Japan, the Kuriles nearest neighbor, the long-term future of the islands may be little brighter than it is today.

(Robert Parsons is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Prague.)

AFGHAN PRESIDENT SUGGESTS ONE TERM IS ENOUGH
Afghan President Hamid Karzai hinted in an interview with "Fortune" magazine that appeared on August 8 that he might not seek reelection in 2009. "I don't think it is good to be running [for office] all the time. Let other people get a chance to run," Karzai was quoted as saying. "I want to leave a good legacy for Afghanistan. I want to have this country stable and constitutionally strong. I want to have this country left with a stable environment of alternative leaders." MR

NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN ATTACK ON COALITION BASE IN AFGHANISTAN
Fifteen militants died while attacking a coalition base in the eastern Nuristan Province of Afghanistan on August 8, AFP reported the next day. About 30 guerrillas mounted the nighttime attack, wounding two U.S. soldiers and an Afghan policeman. Coalition forces reportedly fought off the assault with small arms and mortars and called in air strikes. MR

AUSTRALIA COMMITS MORE TROOPS TO AFGHANISTAN
Australian Prime Minister John Howard on August 9 promised more troops for Afghanistan amid rising insurgent violence, AFP reported. Howard said the expanded Australian forces will be sent to protect a 240-member Australian reconstruction team slated to arrive in southern Afghanistan this month. The report said about 120 infantrymen will go to Afghanistan, along with 14 armored vehicles. "We are proposing an increase to provide protection for the group," Howard said, speaking to reporters in Sydney. "It is more dangerous. There is no point in denying it." MR

MILITANTS LYNCH AFGHAN WOMAN AND HER SON
Militants in southern Afghanistan lynched a woman and her son, whom they accused of spying for the government, AP reported on August 9. Suspected neo-Taliban guerrillas hanged the two on August 7 in the village of Daigh in Helmand Province, according to local authorities. The woman was 70 and her son was 30. Local authorities also said neo-Taliban militants issued a threat after the hanging, vowing to kill anyone thought to be involved in helping the government with counterinsurgency efforts. MR

ENVOY SAYS IRAN STUDYING RUSSIAN FUEL PROPOSALS
Iranian Ambassador to Russia Gholamreza Ansari said in Moscow on August 9 that Tehran is still studying a Russian offer to have fuel made for its nuclear program inside Russia, Mehr agency reported, citing ITAR-TASS (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," December 14, 2005). The proposal "made last year...is being discussed and has been approved by Iranian leaders," Ansari said. He claimed that "unfortunately developments with the [atomic dossier] prevented us from finding suitable conditions to discuss this in detail." Ansari added, "We have no problem buying fuel from Russia or other international centers, but we intend to use this technology, because this is an issue closely related to the independence and future of our country." Iran says it wishes to make fuel for a program strictly designed to generate electricity and for research, although some governments fear it will use fuel-making know-how to make bombs. In Tehran, a member of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, Hamid Reza Haji-Babai, said on August 9 that any resolution by UN Security Council members to "restrict politically" or impose sanctions on Iran will prompt parliament to vote to restrict UN inspections of Iran's atomic installations, ISNA reported. VS

IRAN APPOINTS ENVOY TO CHINA
Iran has appointed Javad Mansuri, a former ambassador in Pakistan and former deputy foreign minister, as its next ambassador in China, Mehr reported on August 9, adding that he will be taking up his post "in the coming days." Mansuri was proposed by Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki and approved by President Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the agency stated. Mansuri was a deputy foreign minister for cultural and consular affairs, then Asia-Pacific affairs, between 1981 and 1990, Iran's envoy in Pakistan until 1993-94, after which he has been an adviser to the Foreign Minister, Mehr stated. Separately, Iran's ambassador in Turkey, Firuz Dolatabadi, said Iran will continue its support for Lebanon's Hizballah, RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on August 9, citing an interview with the Turkish daily "Radikal." Dolatabadi reportedly accused Great Britain and the United States of trying to dismember Lebanon and Iraq, using the guerrilla group Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to do that in Iraq. VS

POLITICAL PRISONERS CONCERNED FOR IRANIAN DISSIDENT'S CONDITION
A group of political prisoners have in an open letter expressed concern for the condition of fellow prisoner Ahmad Batebi, jailed for his part in 1999 student demonstrations in Iran (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 1, 2006, and December 20, 2004), Radio Farda reported on August 9. Batebi was arrested while on prison leave on July 29, shortly before the death in custody of another dissident, Akbar Mohammadi. The prisoners wrote in their letter that "it seems people are waiting for Ahmad to die, before they react," Radio Farda reported. They criticized the EU for not formally condemning Mohammadi's suspect death in prison. "I do not know where Ahmad Batebi is being detained," Batebi's lawyer, Khalil Bahramian, told Radio Farda on August 9. Batebi's wife, Somayeh Binat, also told Radio Farda she has written to the head of the UN human rights agency asking for help. "We are really worried about Ahmad, and that what happened to Mr. Mohammadi should happen to Ahmad," she said. Batebi reportedly began a hunger strike after his recent arrest, Radio Farda stated. VS

IRANIAN OIL MINISTER DEPLORES FUEL WASTAGE
Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh said in Tehran on August 8 that gasoline consumption in Iran is equivalent to a liter per day for every Iranian, "and this is unprecedented in the world," "Aftab-i Yazd" daily reported on August 9. He said fuel wastage has become "ordinary for the people and government" and Iran's government has "not been prepared to put pressure on the people to reduce their consumption." The government anticipates a shortage of fuel in the second half of the Persian year running to March 2007 and is considering various options to meet demand. Vaziri-Hamaneh said the government is planning to introduce an unspecified number of minibuses to increase the public-transport fleet. He said separately that President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has instructed the oil and finance ministers to "examine the executive procedures" of a plan -- apparently proposed by Ahmadinejad -- to sell crude oil cheaper to poorer countries. "This is the president's own viewpoint," Vaziri said. He said Iranian officials have not yet discussed the use of oil as a "political instrument" -- for example, in response to UN sanctions over Iran's nuclear activities -- but "we shall use any factor in the system's interests, even oil," Aftab-i Yazd" reported. VS

SUICIDE BOMBER STRIKES IRAQI HOLY CITY
A suicide bomber blew himself up outside the Imam Ali Shrine in the Shi'ite holy city of Al-Najaf on August 10, killing at least 35 and wounding 94, Reuters reported. Hospital sources told the news agency that the bomber struck a police commando checkpoint at the entrance to the shrine. Reuters cited the Shi'ite news channel Al-Furat (Euphrates) as reporting two explosions, but that has not been independently confirmed. Meanwhile, armed gunmen driving 30 vehicles attacked the Al-Basrah office of Ayatollah Mahmud al-Hasani overnight, Al-Sharqiyah television reported on August 10. The news channel cited a local source as blaming Al-Basrah Governor Muhammad al-Wa'ili and members of his Al-Fadilah party for the attack. The source said elements of the police's Major Crimes Directorate were also involved, adding that they all pushed to close al-Hasani's office in the city. Iraqi security forces have stormed the ayatollah's office several times in recent weeks, most recently one week ago. Supporters of the ayatollah say the operations are politically motivated. KR

KURDISH POLITICAL PARTIES CALL ON PEOPLE TO ACT WITHIN THE LAW
Seven Kurdish political parties called on citizens to air their grievances in a legal and orderly fashion and not resort to violence in an August 8 statement printed in the daily online newspaper "Hawler Post" on August 9. Demonstrators have protested in several Kurdish cities in recent days, demanding the regional government provide better services, including electricity and water. "The people of Kurdistan are free to put forward their demands and highlight the [government's] shortcomings. But it is their duty to submit their demands to the government through legal means, to protect its institutions and adopt civilized means in order to have an understanding between the public and the authorities, so that none of them resort to violence," the statement said. The statement was signed by the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the Kurdistan Islamic Union, the Kurdistan Social Democrat Party, the Kurdistan Islamic Group, the Kurdistan Communist Party, and the Kurdistan Toilers' Party. KR

SOUTH KOREA TO WITHDRAW 1,000 TROOPS FROM IRAQ
South Korea with withdraw 1,000 troops from Iraq's Kurdish region, Peyamner news agency reported on August 9. The withdrawal will begin on September 22, the agency quoted a Korean Colonel Park as saying. Park noted that the decision to withdraw the troops was "political," adding that the withdrawal will not affect Korean activities in the region, where 2,200 troops will remain on duty. KR

IRAQI TRIBES MEET TO DISCUSS NATIONAL RECONCILIATION
A member of the higher committee for national reconciliation told "Al-Sabah al-Jadid" that tribal leaders met for the first time in Al-Mahmudiyah on August 9, the daily reported on August 10. The meeting included tribesmen from different ethnicities living in the area of Al-Mahmudiyah and Al-Latifiyah, south of Baghdad, Zakia Haqqi said. Meanwhile, the state-run daily "Al-Sabah" on August 10 quoted Haqqi as saying that a representative of about 1,000 former military officers has informed the prime minister's office that they are willing to join the reconciliation process. The daily cited sources close to the reconciliation committee as saying that four armed factions have joined the reconciliation process. KR

IRAQ SEEKS ONE-YEAR EXTENSION OF UN MANDATE
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has sent a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan requesting a one-year extension of the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI), "Al-Ittihad" reported on August 10. An August 8 press release on the Foreign Ministry website confirmed that Zebari made the request on August 3, adding that the one-year mandate would be "subject to the right of the government of Iraq to request an earlier termination." UNAMI's current mission expires on August 11. Annan transmitted the request to the UN Security Council on August 4, according to a press release posted on the UN website. "The continued close cooperation with the government of Iraq and the continued active support of the Security Council and the international community will be essential for enabling UNAMI to fully implement its mandated tasks," Annan said in a letter to the Security Council. The UN currently has 396 international civilian and military personnel working in Iraq. KR

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