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Newsline - September 12, 2006

President Vladimir Putin told his administration head Sergey Sobyanin at a September 11 cabinet meeting to draft a document to the Federation Council regarding sending Russian military engineers to Lebanon to aid reconstruction there, Interfax reported. "You must draft an appeal to the Federation Council concerning a battalion that will help in the reconstruction of Lebanon," he stressed. Russia will send only engineering troops and not combat personnel to Lebanon as part of the UN peacekeeping mission. The engineers will help rebuild bridges and roads. This is the first time that Russia has participated in a UN peacekeeping mission with only noncombat forces. There have been serious misgivings within the Russian leadership as to whether Russia should participate at all (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 24, 25, and 28, and September 5, 2006). In related news, Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov said on September 11 that "we shall not be involved in peacekeeping [in Lebanon]. We shall be repairing infrastructure on a bilateral basis in zones outside the zone of the UN peacekeeping operation," ITAR-TASS reported. PM

At the September 11 cabinet meeting, President Putin also dealt with a number of other issues, including traffic rules, Interfax reported. He ordered Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev to report on measures to improve traffic regulations and reduce deaths caused in road accidents. "I will be waiting for your report at the end of the week," Putin added, noting that the number of traffic accidents is "significant." He also referred to a pile-up that same morning near Krasnodar that involved 62 cars and left at least one person dead and 42 hospitalized. He also asked Nurgaliyev to indicate the number of road accidents that were the fault of vehicles carrying special, or official, plates, to which the minister replied that the number over the past six months was 215. Putin also said that he is not happy that many schools were not prepared for the opening of the new school year on September 1. He ordered Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov to investigate the matter. Putin stressed that the problems are "the fault of the municipalities and the regions, and they must realize this." he said. The president also appealed to members of the government and the parliament to "curb ineffective expenditure." Putin believes that responsible behavior "requires the needs of voters to be taken into account, rather than [doing things that would increase] inflation." He warned that irresponsible behavior "will hit the most vulnerable social classes." PM

"The Wall Street Journal-Europe" reported on September 12 that the Russian state bank Vneshtorgbank's recent purchase of a stake of over 5 percent in the European aircraft maker EADS "was coordinated by government officials in Moscow" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 1, 2006). EADS controls Airbus, which is widely touted by many in the EU as that group's "champion" against the U.S. giant Boeing. But EADS also "builds French ballistic missiles and has ambitions to become a major supplier to the U.S. Defense Department. [This] offers another sign that Russia's economic and political resurgence presents unexpected challenges for Western politicians and executives," the daily noted. The paper also quoted Russian experts as saying that Russian aircraft executives realize that they must "integrate with Western manufacturers to survive." It now appears that Russia owns as much of EADS as does the Spanish government, which was one of its co-founders along with Germany and France. In 2005, in Toulouse at the ceremonial unveiling of the giant Airbus A380, then German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder suggested that Russia join in the project, adding that "there's still room in the boat." PM

Defense Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Ivanov said on September 11 that Russia's electronics industry "is still using models from 1980-85" and that its technical standards are "those of yesterday or before," RIA Novosti reported. He stressed that Russian products are not competitive, which has opened the gate for a flood of foreign imports and reduced Russia's role to the assembly of foreign-made components. He noted that the government has a development plan for the industry to cover the years 2007-11 and appealed to business to invest in electronics programs for the military. Ivanov has previously questioned whether Russia's arms industry is competitive in the long term (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 19, 2006, and "Russia: Arms Industry Gathers Steam, But For How Long?", July 14, 2006). PM

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who has just returned from the Middle East, told the daily "Vremya novostei" of September 11 that he remains committed to a negotiated solution to the imbroglio over Iran's atomic program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 6 and 8, 2006). He added that "sanctions are possible, and so are breakthroughs in negotiations. I repeat: the only common goal that unites us all is to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran has stated repeatedly that it is not aiming to do so. We want proof that this is the case." He noted that Russia's construction of a nuclear facility for Iran at Bushehr is continuing under strict safeguards, adding that "besides being a commercial enterprise, the Bushehr nuclear power plant also has political significance." He also warned against "panicky forecasts" regarding the time it might take Iran to build a nuclear weapon. On a broader level, Lavrov said that he "cannot assert that the Americans are planning regime change in Iran. The Iranian people will sort out their own country.... In political and psychological terms, pursuing the idea of involving Iran in regional affairs as an equal partner could be much more effective than any economic promises." PM

Foreign Minister Lavrov told "Vremya novostei" of September 11 that one should "take all existing interconnections into account" regarding the Middle East in a larger context, particularly involving Iran, Syria, Israel, and Lebanon. He noted that, whether one likes it or not, that many politicians and ordinarily people throughout the region see things there as "interwoven." He defended Russia's decision to invite Hamas leaders to Moscow earlier in the year after they won the Palestinian elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," April 12, 19, and 21, 2006). But Lavrov described Hizballah as "a separate organization, a legitimate Lebanese organization," and said that he has no plans to invite its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah to Russia. Hamas and Hizballah do not appear on Russia's official list of terrorist organizations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 28, 2006, and "Russia: As Middle East Heats Up, Russia Maintains Balancing Act,, August 10, 2006). Lavrov believes that there was a "real threat" that both Syria and the Palestinians could have been drawn into the recent conflict, adding that "the fact that it did not happen says a great deal" regarding the prudence of their respective leaderships and the effectiveness of international diplomacy. PM

Investigators said on September 12 they have found the black box and data recorders of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter that crashed near Vladikavkaz in the North Caucasus, Russian news agencies reported. The helicopter was transporting high-ranking military officers when it crashed the previous day. Interfax reported on September 12 that 12 servicemen died and four were hospitalized in a serious condition. The Ossetian jamaat warned last week of its intention to down a Russian military aircraft before the end of this year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). PM/LF

In an interview with Daymohk news agency reposted on September 11 on, Amir Khabibula, who commands the Ingushetian jamaat, said that in late August the so-called Special Operations Group carried out the death sentences handed down by the Ingush Front's Shariat court against one former and one current Ingushetian Interior Ministry officer. The two men, I. Barakhoyev and A. Yandiyev, were said to have participated in the arrest, torture, and killing of numerous Ingush resistance fighters. LF

Mukhu Aliyev has come out in favor of sweeping amendments to Russian legislation on religion that would make it possible to legally ban Wahhabism, according to, as reposted on September 11 on Aliyev also expressed his opposition to the introduction in some Russian schools of a course on the basic principles of Orthodox culture. But he explained that he opposes that initiative because it sets a precedent in violating the Russian Constitution, not because of any infringement on the rights of members of Russia's other three official faiths. LF

Representatives of a dozen Armenian opposition parties met on September 11 in Yerevan to discuss measures to counter what they termed the growing role of "criminal elements" in Armenian politics, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The opposition representatives, including leaders from most of the parties aligned in the opposition Artarutiun (Justice) bloc, pledged that the meeting marks the start of a new coordinated effort to forge a collective approach to address the recent spike in murders and other serious crimes in Armenia. Some participants called for the creation of a broad "anticriminal movement" that would highlight the absence of the rule of law as a campaign issue in the country's May 2007 parliamentary elections. The crime issue was also raised during the opening of the new session of parliament, as opposition leader Aram Sarkisian demanded a special parliamentary debate to examine the performance of the law enforcement authorities in combating the series of recent crimes. That demand was dismissed by the parliament, and deputy police chief General Ararat Mahtesian countered that police are "taking serious measures to solve these crimes." RG

Armenian parliament Chairman Tigran Torosian met on September 11 with a visiting Iranian delegation led by Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, the speaker of the Iranian parliament, Arminfo and Noyan Tapan reported. The Armenian speaker discussed plans to further expand relations between Armenia and Iran, with a special emphasis on developing the energy and trade sectors, and reviewed upcoming bilateral programs established by the Armenian-Iranian parliamentary friendship group. The Iranian deputies also met briefly with other senior Armenian officials, including Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, and visited a prominent mosque in the center of Yerevan. The Iranian delegation was scheduled to meet the following day with Armenian President Robert Kocharian and will travel on to Kyrgyzstan directly from Yerevan. RG

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity announced on September 11 plans to hold a referendum on independence, according to Caucasus Press and ITAR-TASS. The referendum is set for November 12, 2007, and will coincide with presidential elections in South Ossetia. The referendum is to consist of only one brief question, asking if South Ossetia "should retain its current status as an independent state and be recognized by the international community." RG

Georgian opposition Labor Party leader Shalva Natelashvili on September 11 announced his plans to enter the Tbilisi mayoral race set for October 5, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. Speaking at a press conference in Tbilisi, Natelashvili vowed that he is "ready to fight" for the office and pledged to "spare no efforts to hit a powerful blow" against the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili. The election for mayor of the Georgian capital is a central element of the country's October 5 local elections. There are five candidates including Natelashvili; former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili of the opposition Georgia's Way party; businessman Gogi Topadze of the opposition Industrialists party; Koba Davitashvili, nominated by the election coalition of the Republican and Conservative parties; and incumbent Mayor Gigi Ugulava of the ruling National Movement party (see "RFE/RL Caucasus Report," September 1, 2006). RG

Georgian opposition New Conservatives (aka New Rightists) party leader Davit Gamkrelidze announced on September 11 that his party will boycott the October 5 local elections, Civil Georgia and Caucasus Press reported. With the New Rightists' boycott of the local elections, only six political parties or groups will compete for the 1,683 seats in 69 municipal councils throughout Georgia. The six participating parties include the Labor Party, the Georgia's Way party, the Industrialists, the Party of National Ideology, the ruling National Movement, and an election bloc formed by the opposition Conservative and Republican parties. The boycott is seen as linked to the party's failed attempt to recruit businessman Badri Patarkatsishvili as their candidate in the Tbilisi mayoral race. In comments during a Tbilisi press conference, Gamkrelidze said that only a boycott of the local elections and early parliamentary elections would be sufficient for countering the "crisis" from the Georgian government's "political fraud," Imedi television reported. RG

Rebel militia leader Emzar Kvitsiani, on the run from the Georgian police since July, issued a threat on September 11 to the Georgian government, Caucasus Press and Civil Georgia reported. In a statement televised by Imedi, Kvitsiani "declared war" against the government, adding that he was supported by forces in the Russian regions of the North Caucasus. Kvitsiani has been on the run for months after Georgian troops disbanded his paramilitary force in northwestern Georgia's Kodori Gorge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 26, 27, 28, and 31, 2006). RG

Zurab Noghaideli rejected on September 11 a warning by fugitive militiaman Emzar Kvitsiani threatening to wage war against the Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported. Noghaideli explained that "we have listened to his threats several times" and stressed that the Georgian authorities have reestablished firm control in the Kodori Gorge. RG

Prime Minister Noghaideli said on September 11 that the Georgian government is committed to combating inflation and to keeping it within the single-digit target range, Civil Georgia reported. Monthly inflation in Georgia has risen sharply in recent months, reaching 14.5 percent in July, a trend that Noghaideli argued was a manageable result of the country's continued economic growth. RG

The Kazakh Defense Ministry announced on September 11 that its Foreign Language College will become the center for language training for member states of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Interfax reported. The Kazakh military facility is being prepared to host military cadets and linguistic experts form the CSTO starting in 2007. Kazakhstan is also establishing another training center as part of NATO's Partnership for Peace program "to promote military cooperation and operational compatibility." RG

A new opposition party was established on September 10 in Kazakhstan, Interfax reported. At a founding party congress in Astana, nearly 2,500 delegates of the new National Social Democratic Party elected Zharmakhan Tuyakbai as the party's chairman. In an address to a rally of supporters later that day, Tuyakbai announced that the new party will align itself with the For a Just Kazakhstan movement to oppose the government of President Nursultan Nazarbaev. Tuyakbai, also a leader of that movement, was an unsuccessful challenger to Nazarbaev in the December 2005 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," December 16, 2005). Although the party has yet to acquire official registration, it released a preliminary party platform that includes a call for an immediate suspension of the government's privatization program, the provision of free universal higher education, and a lowering of the retirement age. RG

Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Prime Minister Feliks Kulov marked the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the United States by visiting the U.S. Manas military air base on September 11, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. In remarks at the air base outside of Bishkek, Bakiev noted that the facility is necessary to ensure stability in the region. Bakiev also justified ongoing security operations in southern Kyrgyzstan, arguing that states in the region must remain vigilant and ready to fight "international terrorism." Kyrgyz and U.S. officials ended negotiations in July for the continued use of the Manas facility, resulting in a deal whereby Washington reportedly agrees to pay $200 million a year to Bishkek for the use of the base, a significant increase from the $2 million lease under the previous agreement. RG

President Bakiev said on September 11 that he blamed "people seeking to destabilize the country" for the recent arrest of opposition leader and former parliament speaker Omurbek Tekebaev in Poland, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. Tekebaev was arrested on September 6 by Polish police and held for 24 hours on drug charges after heroin was discovered in his luggage (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). Bakiev added that he intends to form a new state commission to investigate the incident, adding yet another investigatory body that includes a parliamentary committee and the Prosecutor-General's Office already empowered to report on the case, AKIpress reported. Tekebaev was released by a Polish court that dropped all charges against him and he returned to Bishkek on September 12. RG

In a formal statement to President Bakiev presented to the Kyrgyz parliament on September 11, Manas International Airport Deputy Director Nadyr Mamyrov claimed that the Kyrgyz president's brother, Janysh, may have been involved in a plot to frame opposition leader Tekebaev, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. According to the statement, the airport official said he received orders from Janysh Bakiev, the first deputy chairman of Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB), to place Tekebaev's luggage in a "closed room" prior to the former parliament speaker's boarding of his flight. Parliamentarian Tayirbek Sarpashev, the chairman of a special committee formed to investigate the incident, recently announced that a security video at the airport showed a uniformed man possibly tampering with Tekebaev's suitcase (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). Further adding to the likelihood of tampering, a Polish court dealing with the Tekebaev case revealed on September 8 that Polish police received a fax from an unnamed security official in Astana indicating Tekebaev was carrying drugs in his luggage. RG

An Uzbek court issued on September 8 a three-year suspended prison sentence for dissident poet Dadakhon Hasan after convicting him in a closed trial for writing a song about the military crackdown in Andijon in 2005, RFE/RL's Uzbek Service reported. According to independent lawyer and human rights campaigner Surat Ikramov, Hasan was denied legal counsel and court officials refused to allow any family members to attend his trial. Hasan was formally charged with insulting the "dignity and honor" of President Islam Karimov and "threatening public security" after writing a song about the May 2005 antigovernment uprising in Andijon that referred to the city as being "drowned in blood," with victims "falling like mulberries." RG

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has decreed that the government allocate funds in next year's budget to finance the Union of Writers of Belarus (SPB), Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on September 11. The SPB, founded in 2005, is seen as an alternative to the Union of Belarusian Writers, which government-controlled media outlets have branded as nationalistic and being in opposition to the president's policies. The Union of Belarusian Writers, founded in 1934, was evicted from its longtime office in downtown Minsk on August 30, following a court dispute with the presidential administration over unpaid rent. Lukashenka's decree orders the government to provide money for a dozen SPB functionaries and for the SPB's "statutory activities," including those connected with business-trip travel and accommodation, utility bills, communications services, equipment purchases, and the promotion of literature. JM

President Lukashenka said in an interview with the Russian television channel NTV on September 11 that the emergence of a "unipolar world" was the most negative consequence of the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Belarusian Television reported. "Now there is the biggest absurdity -- a unipolar world. The destruction of Yugoslavia, the war in the Balkans, and many, many other processes became possible, roughly speaking, thanks to the fact that the Soviet Union is no more. If the Soviet Union had existed, these wars would have never happened," Lukashenka said. JM

Valyantsina Svyatskaya, a member of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, has sued former Interior Minister Yury Sivakou over his article that appeared in the July edition of "Spetsnaz" magazine, which is published by the Interior Ministry, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported on September 11. In his article Sivakou, currently chairman of an association of special-task police veterans, copiously quoted from a German army officers' code of honor written by Adolf Hitler, suggesting that the Belarusian army should consider adopting some principles formulated by the Nazi leader. Svyatskaya argues in her suit that the publication insults her honor and dignity and claims 60 million rubles ($28,000) in damages. "I was very disturbed by the fact that the authorities have in no way reacted to this article. The point is that what is presented there as a model -- that is, a fascist platform -- is not only a personal insult to me, but an insult to the entire Belarusian nation," Svyatskaya told journalists. "Did I write something that contradicts elementary logic? ...I did not write there that it is necessary to be guided by Hitler's code. I quoted there [Russian military leader] Suvorov, [Russian Tsar] Peter I, and Hitler, and then, based on all that, I formulated what I believe to be relevant to present-day servicemen," RFE/RL's Belarus Service quoted Sivakou as saying. Sivakou has been barred from the European Union over his suspected involvement in the 1999-2000 disappearances of four prominent opponents of President Lukashenka. JM

The Verkhovna Rada on September 12 stripped 13 members of the current government -- including Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, First Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Azarov, and Deputy Prime Minister Andriy Klyuyev -- of their parliamentary mandates, Ukrainian news agencies reported. In this way the legislature complied with a legal provision obliging Ukrainian lawmakers appointed to governmental posts to give up their parliamentary mandates. Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz said he will request that the Kyiv Appellate Court strip Justice Minister Roman Zvarych of his parliamentary seat, since Zvarych has failed to tender his formal resignation as a lawmaker. JM

President Viktor Yushchenko has approved the composition of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO), which is a constitutional body for coordinating and monitoring the activities of executive bodies in the sphere of national security and defense, Interfax-Ukraine reported on September 12. The RNBO, chaired by Yushchenko, is made up of Prime Minister Yanukovych, First Deputy Prime Minister Azarov, Presidential Secretariat head Oleh Rybachuk, Economy Minister Volodymyr Makukha, Emergency Situations Minister Viktor Baloha, Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, Security Service chief Ihor Dryzhchanyy, Justice Minister Zvarych, Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk, Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko, Foreign Intelligence Service chief Mykola Malomuzh, and acting RNBO Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin. Three other officials are also allowed to participate in RNBO meetings: parliament speaker Moroz, Prosecutor-General Oleksandr Medvedko, and National Bank head Volodymyr Stelmakh. JM

According to exit polls, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic's ruling coalition easily won Montenegero's first general elections since independence, international news agencies reported on September 11. A coalition of Djukanovic's Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) took 40 out of 81 seats in parliament by winning 49.7 percent of the vote, according to an estimate from the Center for Monitoring. An estimate by the Center for Democratic Transition gave the coalition 41 seats, Bloomberg News reported. "This is a triumph for Montenegro's European policy," Djukanovic told cheering supporters, according to Reuters. "These elections have shown that Montenegro is stable and firmly on the European track." An opposition coalition comprising the Socialist People's Party (SNP) and the People's Party won 11 seats according to the Center for Monitoring, and between 11 to 14 seats in the Center for Democratic Transition estimate, Bloomberg News reported. BW

The European Commission announced on September 11 that it will resume negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement (SAA) with Montenegro this month, AP reported the same day. EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn praised Montenegro's September 10 elections, but added that Podgorica must enact far-reaching reforms before a deal can be finalized. He specifically stressed the need for reforms in the judiciary. "The principal challenges that Montenegro now faces are the continuation of reforms and the consolidation of the rule of law," Rehn said. The EU broke off SAA talks with Serbia and Montenegro in May over Belgrade's failure to capture war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2006). But after Montenegro voted for independence on May 21, Brussels said it would hold separate talks with Podgorica (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 22, 23, and 24, 2006). BW

Police in the southern Serbian town of Novi Pazar said on September 11 that they have arrested two people in connection with the fatal shooting of a candidate for the local assembly, B92 reported the same day. Gunmen opened fire on a polling station from a passing car on September 10, killing assembly candidate Ruzdija Durovic and wounding his nephew Sulejman Durovic and two bystanders (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2006). Police arrested Ertan Gegic hours after the shooting and apprehended Ismet Derdemez on September 11. One other suspect, Sead Papic, is still at large. All three are residents of Novi Pazar. According to media reports, the shooting stemmed from a rivalry between two Muslim political groupings vying for power in the local elections. Justice Minister Zoran Stojkovic called for calm. "No election is worth a human life," he said. "Let's have the elections as a confrontation of different parties and ideas, rather than manipulate citizens into conflict and hatred." BW

The Serbian government on September 11 lauded Russian President Vladimir Putin's statement that Moscow will veto any Kosova settlement it considers unfair, B92 reported the same day. "We will be guided by the interests of the participants in international relations in Europe, including Serbia," Putin told a meeting of Western academics and journalists, the "Financial Times" reported on September 10. "And if the solution [on Kosova's status] would not [be] acceptable to us we will not hold back from using our right of veto," Putin added. Serbian government spokesman Srdjan Djuric said Belgrade appreciates Putin's remarks as they seek to protect Serbia's national security interests. "The stance of President Putin is principally and completely in agreement with our highest and most valid international rights and is also in the spirit of maintaining peace and stability," Djuric said. BW

Amnesty International announced in a September 11 press release that nine Moldovans arrested in Chisinau on August 30 will be considered "prisoners of conscience" if they are sentenced to prison. The nine, members of the nongovernmental organization Hyde Park, participated in a demonstration in Chisinau on August 30 in which they demanded that a statue for Romanian writer Liviu Rebreanu be erected. According to Amnesty International's website, the group was granted official permission for the demonstration, but were nevertheless detained by police and held for 40 hours in poorly ventilated cells. They were also not given food, drink, or bedding; had only limited access to a toilet; and were denied access to a lawyer. "These nine people are going to be tried for the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of association and assembly," the press release quoted Heather McGill, Amnesty International's researcher on Moldova, as saying. "Their treatment by the police violates international human rights conventions that Moldova is party to," she added. The demonstrators, aged between 18 and 50, could face sentences of up to 30 days in prison. BW

The coordinated terror attacks that hit the United States on September 11, 2001, resulted in a fundamental shift in U.S. policy. In Russia, a self-declared ally in international antiterrorism efforts, changes have been felt, as well.

As the world watched the events in New York and Washington in horror and disbelief, Russian President Vladimir Putin was quick to react. He picked up the phone and called George W. Bush, becoming the first world leader to offer condolences and support to the U.S. president. Putin may have felt that he, more than other heads of state, was uniquely qualified to address the issue of terrorist attacks.

"What happened today underlines once again the importance of Russia's proposals to unite the efforts of the international community in the fight against terrorism, against this plague of the 21st century," Putin told Russian television viewers the same day. "Russia knows firsthand what terrorism is, so we understand more than anyone else the feelings of the American people."

With the smoke of the 9/11 attacks still hanging in the air, Putin had publicly linked the attacks to his own country's battle with Chechen separatists. By that time, Russia had already experienced several terrorist attacks attributed to Chechen militants.

In 1995, radical Chechen militant Shamil Basayev staged the first in what would become a series of terror operations, seizing 1,500 hostages in the southern Russian town of Budyonnovsk. Nearly 170 hostages died during rescue efforts, while Basayev and most of his men escaped.

In 1999, bombs destroyed apartment blocks in Moscow, Buinaksk, and Volgodonsk, killing more than 200 people. Moscow blamed the explosions on Chechen fighters, and launched its second war in the breakaway republic soon afterward.

The threat of terrorism had been on Putin's mind since the start of his presidency in 2000. He had repeatedly pushed the idea that Russia, the United States, and Europe had to join forces to combat it.

So when Bush declared his "war on terror" in the wake of 9/11, he found a staunch ally in the Russian president. Putin offered his cooperation in the U.S. operations in Afghanistan, facilitating the stationing of U.S. troops in Central Asia and opening Russian airspace to humanitarian flights.

He also redoubled his efforts at home. Putin made clear that the war on terror extended to Russian soil -- specifically, to the North Caucasus, where the Kremlin's two-year-old military campaign was degenerating into the guerrilla warfare that continues to this day.

What the West had originally condemned as a vicious antiseparatist campaign, Putin labored to refashion as a legitimate part of the global struggle against terrorism. His efforts were largely successful and Western criticism of the war slowly subsided. The Kremlin, claiming success in Chechnya, established a pliable regime in Grozny.

Ruslan Martagov is a former spokesman for an earlier, Moscow-installed Chechen government, that of Doku Zavgayev in the mid-1990s, who now heads the Antiterror Foundation in Moscow.

"September 11 was an unexpected gift for Mr. Putin," Martagov says. "From then on, he started calling the fight against the Chechen separatist movement in the North Caucasus a 'fight against international terrorism.' If before he was perceived in the West as [someone using aggressive jargon] like 'strangle, kill, wipe out,' after the events of September 11 he managed to enter the league of those combating international terrorism."

Since 9/11, Russian officials have repeatedly made implicit connections between Chechen separatists and Al-Qaeda, which has been blamed for the 9/11 attacks. Afghan and Arab fighters have routinely been reported as battling alongside separatist forces in Chechnya. Chechen militants, likewise, have allegedly been found among terror cells in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, and, more recently, Iraq.

One year after the 9/11 attacks, Chechen fighters were reported to be seeking refuge in Georgia's remote Pankisi Gorge. Putin, whose ties with Georgia had gone cold, used the opportunity to threaten air strikes on its territory if Tbilisi refused to rout the "terrorists" themselves.

"Today nobody can deny -- we know this for sure, and it is confirmed by international sources of information -- that those who took part in preparations for the attacks on the United States one year ago and those who were directly involved in the Russian apartment-block explosions are entrenched on the territory of Georgia," Putin said.

In addition, he followed the U.S. lead and declared that Russia had a right to launch preemptive strikes against foreign countries if it felt that a terrorist threat was emerging there.

Ultimately, however, Putin's efforts in the North Caucasus appear to have yielded mixed results. Unrest has continued to spill beyond the borders of Chechnya, to neighboring Caucasus republics and beyond, with separatist militants resorting to increasingly extremist methods.

In October 2002, Chechen rebels stormed a Moscow theater, taking an estimated 900 people hostage -- 129 of them were killed in the rescue operation. And in September 2004, more than 330 people, half of them children, died after Chechen rebel sympathizers seized a school in the southern Russian city of Beslan.

The Beslan tragedy followed the near-simultaneous bombing of two Russian commercial airliners on August 24 and a suicide bomb attack near a crowded Moscow subway station on August 31. A total of 100 people died in those three attacks, all of which were said to be carried out by female suicide bombers from Chechnya.

Since Beslan, however, major terrorist incidents have been avoided in Russia. In addition, Chechen rebel leaders Aslan Maskhadov and Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev were killed. And in July, Basayev himself was killed in an accidental explosion.

Putin's Chechen campaign continues to enjoy widespread popular support in Russia. Brought to the presidency on promises to "wipe out" terrorists, Putin, for many Russians, is doing what's needed to guarantee the country's security.

Sergei Markov, the director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political Studies, has close ties to the Kremlin. He describes Russia's campaign in Chechnya as an unparalleled success.

"It is justified by the fact that this territory was seized by a coalition of separatists and radical Islamists," Markov says. "Thousands of people suffered from terror. This war was a colossal success: the army of radical Islamists and separatists was crushed, peace and calm arrived. Americans and other countries should very carefully study the Chechen campaign carried out by the Kremlin and take lessons from it."

Not everyone, however, is convinced. Independent experts like Martagov assert that the ongoing war in Chechnya has fueled violence and extremism throughout Russia.

"Over the past five years, the radicalization of young people has been spreading across the North Caucasus, mainly because there is one thing that our authorities are incapable of understanding -- terrorism is above all an ideology, and you can't defeat an ideology with rifles," Martagov says. "An ideology must be challenged with another ideology. Everything the federal authorities are currently doing results in young people being increasingly disappointed with this government and seeing their only salvation in the most extreme form of religion."

Putin also consolidated the Kremlin's power generally under the banner of combating terrorism. In the aftermath of the Beslan tragedy, Putin pushed through parliament a package of purported antiterrorism measures that considerably extended Kremlin control over Russian's sprawling regions. These measures included the abolition of popular elections of regional leaders, replacing them with Kremlin appointees.

Boris Kagarlitsky, the director of Moscow's Institute of Globalization Studies, says Putin's administration has also used the September 11 attacks to justify its clampdown on independent media.

"The war against terrorism is a big gift for any government, because it always represents a way of rapidly limiting civil rights and liberties in order to save a way of life that is [allegedly] threatened by an absolute evil," Kagarlitsky says. "For the Russian political establishment, a wonderful opportunity arose to control the press. It is no coincidence that the systematic strangling of the free press started precisely after September 2001."

While Putin has made the war on terror a central part of his domestic policy over the past five years, his allegiance to the methods and policies undertaken by the United States in that war has been limited.

Like many European leaders, he openly opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and has called for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country, straining relations with Washington. And by maintaining working ties with Iran -- a country once described by Washington as a point on the "axis of evil" -- Putin has clearly shown that his agenda for the global war on terror does not correspond neatly to Washington's.

(Claire Bigg is an RFE/RL correspondent based in Moscow.)

On the occasion of the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the United States, Afghan President Hamid Karzai sent a message to the American people expressing the "strong solidarity" of the Afghan people, according to a statement released on September 11 by Karzai's office. Afghans understand the "tremendous loss" that the people of the United States endured in 2001, Karzai's statement said, adding that Afghans "also have suffered for long at the hands of terrorism." For years, Afghans "were held hostage in their own foreign terrorists and their Taliban friends," Karzai continued, adding that "regrettably, it took the tragedy of 9/11" for the international community to fully understand the scope of the threat that international terrorism poses to global security. Focusing on the post-Taliban period, Karzai added that the "progress of the last five years in Afghanistan would not have been possible without American sacrifice and support." Karzai finished his statement by expressing the "deep appreciation" of the Afghans to the United States. AT

During the funeral services for Governor Mohammad Hakim Taniwal of Paktiya Province in Khost, northeast of Paktiya, six policemen were killed and 16 others, including civilians, were injured, Peshawar-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) reported on September 11. Taniwal was killed in a suicide attack on September 10 for which the Taliban claimed responsibility (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2006). Colonel Mohammad Zaman, the head of security in Paktiya, was among those injured. In a statement issued on September 11 by Karzai's office in Kabul, the Afghan president called the "terrorist attack" on Taniwal's funeral ceremonies "animosity against Islam and the people of Afghanistan." Taniwal was a close confidant of Karzai who returned to his native Afghanistan after nearly two decades of exile in Australia and was viewed as a voice of peace and reason. AT

A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country during the rule of the Taliban -- claimed on September 11 that a "heroic mujahed" of the Islamic Emirate carried out a suicide attack against high-level officers attending Taniwal's funeral. According to the website, many of the officers were killed or injured in the attack. Meanwhile, Mohammad Hanif, purportedly speaking on behalf of the Taliban, condemned the attack on Taniwal's funeral ceremonies, AIP reported on September 11. "We strongly condemn the suicide attack" at Taniwal's funeral, Mohammad Hanif told AIP. "We did not commit this suicide attack." Mohammad Hanif on September 10 assumed responsibility for Taniwal's assassination, identifying the same alleged perpetrator named by the website of the Islamic Emirate. The website quotes Mohammad Hanif as a spokesman for the Islamic Emirate. AT

Purported Taliban spokesman Mohammad Hanif rejected the recent claims by NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) sources of heavy casualties suffered by the insurgents, AIP reported on September 11. He specifically cited the reports about Taliban casualties in Pnajwayi district of Kandahar Province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2006). According to ISAF sources, since the beginning to Operation Medusa in early September around 500 insurgents have been killed, with close to 100 on September 10 alone. Mohammad Hanif called these claims "100 percent baseless." According to Mohammad Hanif on September 10, "only two mujahedin were martyred." AT

Alaedin Borujerdi, the head of the Iranian parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, told ISNA on September 11 that talks between Iranian nuclear dossier chief Ali Larijani and the EU's Javier Solana have shown that "the only way to come out of the present situation is to negotiate, and pressure on Iran" will not work (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 11, 2006). He said that in contrast to previous talks, the latest talks were held "in a suitable environment," and focused on Iran's response to a Western package of proposals on its contested program (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006) "and questions" EU states have. The two sides are set to continue talks, showing that EU states now favor talking to Iran, Borujerdi said. He said that EU states have concluded that "using political pressure and the [UN] Security Council lever will lead nowhere," ISNA reported. He accused the United States of trying to block a negotiated solution to the issue. U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton is a "radical, irrational agent," he said, working against talks, "and it was repeated in the UN...that the draft of a second resolution [against Iran] is in Bolton's pocket." VS

Interior Minister Mustafa Purmohammadi told a gathering of provincial governors in Tehran on September 11 that the ministry, which is charged with organizing elections, will work to ensure "clean and strong" elections for local councils and the Assembly of Experts, a body that elects and supervises Iran's supreme leader, ISNA reported. The elections were to be held simultaneously in December, though some officials have spoken of an unspecified postponement (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 14, 2006, and "RFE/RL Newsline," August 28, 2006). Purmohammadi said, "the perspective of those holding the elections must be confidence in and reliance on the people's vote, whatever it may be." He said that "every single vote is to be respected, and must not suffer the slightest violation." At the same meeting, Deputy Interior Minister for Political Affairs Ali Jannati said upcoming elections should be clean and competitive, and urged provincial governors to study previous elections to correct shortcomings and train officials to better implement their electoral duties, ISNA reported. He also warned, "What the Americans and Europeans want in Iran today is a soft overthrow." VS

Khalil Bahramian, a lawyer defending a student activist who died in Tehran's Evin prison in late July, is now charged with "insulting the system," apparently for remarks he made after his client Akbar Mohammadi's death (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," August 10, 2006), RFE/RL's Radio Farda reported on September 11. Bahramian told the broadcaster that Evin prison authorities are taking legal action after unspecified comments he made on the constitutional rights of citizens and inmates. He said he has already attended one session in which he explained his statements to interrogators. Separately, judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi told a gathering of judiciary officials in Tehran on September 11 that Iranian judges give out too many jail sentences, a practice he said is inspired by Western systems and against Islamic legal principles, Mehr reported. He said laws should be changed to allow judges to order the conditional release of many more inmates who have completed half their sentences, after due consideration. Prison, he said, is not "the solution or treatment for crimes" and "the basis of imprisonment as a penalty...must change, and substitute penalties should be used," Mehr reported. VS

Oil Minister Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh said in Vienna on September 11 that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) may have to cut its crude output if oil prices keep falling, and OPEC members would not tolerate prices below $60 a barrel, Mehr reported. "The high level of crude oil production has led global oil reserves to rise above the usual level," he said, provoking "instability and the decline in prices in the past month." He repeated that Iran would not use oil as a weapon -- by cutting production for example -- in response to pressures or UN sanctions over its nuclear program. Current talks have been positive, he added, and "there is no talk of any possible sanctions against Iran," Mehr reported. Vaziri said in Tehran on September 10 that Iran's crude production has a "natural" drop of 500,000 barrels a year, which must be offset by production increases, ISNA reported. He said he expects Iran to produce 4.6 million barrels of crude oil daily at the end of the fourth five-year development plan in 2010, ISNA added (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," March 23, 2006). VS

Gunmen attacked a Shi'ite mosque in Khan Bani Sa'd on September 11, international media reported on September 12. Local police said six mortar rounds were fired at the mosque before gunmen detonated explosives planted around the building, the "Los Angeles Times" reported. State-run Al-Iraqiyah television reported that seven Iraqis were killed in the attack, and several others wounded. Overnight violence and attacks around the country killed at least 24 people, AP reported. KR

Armed gunmen shot and killed a design editor for the state-run daily "Al-Sabah" on September 11, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reported the same day. Abd al-Karim al-Rubay'i and his family reportedly received death threats two weeks ago from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council, after al-Rubay'i accused the group of responsibility for a car-bomb attack on the newspaper in late August. Seventy-eight journalists and 28 media workers have been killed in Iraq since March 2003, CPJ reported. KR

Several Iraqi political leaders have come out in support of Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani's decision to ban the flying of the Iraqi state flag until a new flag can be adopted, according to recent press reports. Iraqi Turkoman Liberal Group Secretary-General Sami Shabak told "Aso" he supports Barzani's decision, saying, "The flag is not the Iraqi flag; it is the flag of a dictatorial party," referring to the deposed Ba'ath Party, the newspaper reported on September 10. Former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi also supports calls for a new flag, reported on September 8. Meanwhile, some Iraqis in Mosul have begun a campaign to promote the flag, and have distributed it to families around town, "Jamawar" reported on September 11. The Kurdish newspaper claimed that the proponents of the flag are members of the Iraqi Islamic Party. Sunni Arab parliamentarian Muhammad al-Dayni said Barzani's decision to ban the flying of the flag threatens national unity, AP reported on September 10 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 8, 2006). KR

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told the UN Security Council on September 11 that Iraq is at a "crossroads," according to a press release on the UN's website. "The Iraqi people and their leaders have arrived at an important crossroads: if they are able to build firm foundations for the common interest of all Iraqis, the promise of peace and prosperity will be within reach. However, if current patterns of discord and violence prevail for much longer, there is a grave danger of a breakdown of the Iraqi state, and potentially of civil war," Annan said in a quarterly report on the activities of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI). Annan noted significant political achievements, but said insecurity continues to hamper development. Annan said representatives from 13 governments, as well as the Arab League, World Bank, and other regional and international organizations attended the preparatory meeting for the International Compact for Iraq conference in Abu Dhabi on September 10. The conference, in which Iraq plans to seek millions in international financial support, is slated to take place in November. KR