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Newsline - September 20, 2006


'RUSSIA FACES GLOBAL OIL BACKLASH'...
London's "Financial Times" wrote on September 20 that "Russia [faces] a global backlash over its threat to halt work on a $20 billion energy project [known as Sakhalin-2] led by Royal Dutch Shell," together with Mitsui and Mitsubishi, which are Japan's two largest trading and engineering firms, as minority owners (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). Although the Russian Federal Service for the Oversight of Natural Resources (Rosprirodnadzor) cited environmental reasons for blocking the project, Moscow is probably seeking to renegotiate the deal so as to give the state-run monopoly Gazprom a stake of at least 25 percent, reducing Shell's share to not more than 30 percent. Agreements with Shell and other Western oil giants were concluded at a time when oil prices were low and Russia sought foreign capital, which is no longer the case. The "Financial Times" commented that the Kremlin's latest move only puts further pressure on relations with Tokyo, which are strained by a recent fatal incident involving a Japanese fishing boat off the Kurile Islands (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22, 2006). The daily added that the international business community "will wonder why Shell has been singled out" and stressed that "Russia must not renegotiate oil contracts by the back door." The daily also warned the Kremlin against thinking that the investors need Russia more than it needs their technology to open its often remote hydrocarbon deposits in order to meet an ever-growing list of commitments. PM

...ON SEVERAL FRONTS
A spokesman for the U.K. Embassy to Russia told Interfax in Moscow on September 20 that London is "deeply concerned" about the Kremlin's move against Sakhalin-2. He added that "we have expressed our concerns to the Russian government at a number of levels and are in close touch with the companies and authorities involved." The "Frankfurter Allgemeine" commented that the Sakhalin-2 affair has acquired political importance for Russia's relations with both Japan and the EU, which is still smarting from Russia's cutoff of gas supplies to Ukraine last winter. PM

KREMLIN SEEMS UNWILLING TO BUDGE...
Rosprirodnadzor deputy head Oleg Mitvol told the "Financial Times" of September 20 that "we are not against foreign investment. We are against attempts to make Russia look like a banana republic." Steven Dashevsky, head of research at Aton Capital, a Moscow brokerage, said nonetheless that "the message people are going to derive from this that no contract is sacred in Russia. [Production-sharing agreements] PSAs were considered untouchable." In Tokyo, Russian Ambassador to Japan Aleksandr Losyukov said that Sakhalin-2 will be completed but gave no time frame, pointing to 60 "unresolved environmental violations." He suggested nonetheless that a new deal will be finalized by the end of 2006, with a 20 percent stake going to Gazprom. In Moscow, German Gref, who is minister of economic development and trade, said that Russia will honor existing PSAs but might not negotiate any new ones, RIA Novosti and mosnews.com reported. Referring to PSAs, he said that "the investment climate in the country today and the external situation are such that we can cope without this regime and work within standard conditions." Gref added that "we will obviously ensure that existing agreements are honored." He complained that Sakhalin-2 has produced cost overruns but added that "we must search for compromises." PM

...AND MAY BE TARGETING NEW VICTIMS
Several Russian and Western commentators suggested on September 19 that that the exploration license for TNK-BP to develop Eastern Siberia's Kovykta gas field is next on the Kremlin's hit list, the "Financial Times" reported on September 20. Elsewhere, Russia's Ministry of Natural Resources began a formal review of the Kharyaga oil field PSA on September 20, Dow Jones Newswires reported. France's Total SA has a 50 percent stake in the deal, followed by Norway's Norsk Hydro ASA with 40 percent and Russia's Nenets at 10 percent. PM

PUTIN MIGHT USE $6 BILLION BARGAINING CHIP FOR EADS...
President Vladimir Putin will meet French President Jacques Chirac and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in France soon and press his case for a greater role for Russia in the European aerospace giant EADS, which the firm's management has rejected, London's "The Times" reported on September 19 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 12, 13, and 15, 2006). Putin's bargaining chip lies in a potential $6 billion order for 44 aircraft for Aeroflot. The daily reported that he recently ordered the company to postpone indefinitely its decision to choose between the Airbus A350 and the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, a decision that was due on September 15 under an agreement with Boeing. EADS, which has been hit by production delays and scandals, would be greatly helped by the possible sale of 44 planes to the Russian state carrier. It is not clear, however, whether Chirac and Merkel will agree to Russian demands for a seat on the EADS board and a close relationship between EADS and Russia's new United Aircraft Company (OAK), which seeks to modernize Russia's moribund aerospace industry, which "The Times" recently described as a "glorious junkyard" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). PM

...BUT WILL IT FLY?
Russia's National Reserve Corporation (NRC), which is the investment arm of the Gazprom-controlled National Reserve Bank, and Boeing have signed a preliminary agreement on "general delivery terms" for the U.S. company to build 22 Dreamliners for Aeroflot, Aleksandr Lebedev, the main owner of NRC, told Interfax on September 19. He stressed that immediate action was necessary lest the deal fall through. "If the contract with Boeing falls apart, Aeroflot will face colossal losses. We have reserved these planes on the terms proposed by Aeroflot," Lebedev said. The news agency noted that Aeroflot's board did not make the decision on September 15 as expected because government representatives had no instructions on how to vote. "The Moscow Times" on September 20 quoted Lebedev as saying that top government officials "hate each other" and have no concern for the airline. He added that his lawyers are looking into the possibility of suing Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov for possible losses ensued by the delay in making a decision. Meanwhile in Irkutsk on September 20, Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov said that his company will buy "both Boeing and Airbus. From 2010-12, 22 Boeings, from 2012-16, 22 Airbuses," Reuters reported. He noted that tender talks with Boeing have closed, while negotiations with Airbus are still in progress. He declined to comment on the possible total cost of the deals. PM

KEY LEGISLATOR WARNS OF ROLE OF 'OUTSIDE FORCES' IN HUNGARIAN PROTESTS
State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Konstantin Kosachyov told Interfax in Moscow on September 19 that the situation in Hungary is "disturbing because political disputes have once again turned into an open violent confrontation" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). He called on the government to "alleviate complaints" by the opposition, which he asked to refrain "from any use of force, including steps to seize the television headquarters and other buildings." Kosachyov argued that "it is exceedingly important" to stop unnamed "forces abroad" from taking advantage of the tensions. "All external factors, including assessments of the 1956 events, ought to be excluded from this situation," he added. Other Russian commentators have suggested that there are "two Hungaries," namely one with ties to the West, and the other, primarily in the business world and with close ties to the governing Socialists, with Russia. PM

PLANS FOR LEBANON MISSION TAKING SHAPE
Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said in Orenburg Oblast on September 20 that technical equipment for the planned Russian engineering battalion in Lebanon will arrive there on a Russian civilian ship in late September, Interfax reported. The air force will fly in the sappers, who will rebuild six bridges under a bilateral agreement between Beirut and Moscow, independent of the UN mission. Ivanov noted that the Russians "will be based near the town of Saida, outside the zone of the UN peacekeeping contingent's operations" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5 and 12, 2006). PM

ELECTION CHIEF WARNS AGAINST ONE-PARTY SYSTEM
Central Election Commission Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told Reuters in Moscow on September 19 that Russia could repeat the fatal mistakes of the Soviet Union if it develops a one-party system, as "certain forces" want. He called for "real competition" but did not mention the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party by name or the Kremlin's recent attempts to manufacture a leftist "opposition" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 29 and 30, 2006). The news agency said that his remarks reflect an internal contest between those favoring openly one-party rule and those preferring "more subtle methods to influence politics." PM

CHECHEN WEBSITE IMPLICATES PRIME MINISTER IN BANKER'S MURDER
The shooting on September 13 of Russian Central Bank First Deputy Chairman Andrei Kozlov (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 18, 2006) was carried out by security forces subordinate to pro-Moscow Chechen Prime Minister Ramzan Kadyrov, the website kavkazcenter.com reported on September 18, referring to an unnamed source within Kadyrov's closest entourage. The website alleged that former Slavneft head Mikhail Gutseriyev paid Kadyrov $7.5 million-$10.5 million to carry out the killing in revenge for a probe launched by Kozlov last year that targeted Gutseriyev's BIN-Bank on suspicion of money laundering. Gutseriyev is known to have been close to Kadyrov's father, former pro-Moscow Chechen administration head Akhmed-hadji Kadyrov. LF

INGUSHETIAN PRESIDENT, CHECHEN PREMIER SEEK TO ALLAY TENSIONS
The press services of Ingushetian President Murat Zyazikov and Chechen Prime Minister Kadyrov issued a joint statement on September 19 seeking to downplay the popular outrage triggered by the September 13 shoot-out between Chechen Interior Ministry special forces (OMON) and Ingushetian traffic police in which eight men died, ingushetiya.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 15, and 19, 2006). The statement categorically rejected an assertion by a Russian journalist in the daily "Moskovsky komsomolets" that the primary reason for the clash was the mutual "mortal hatred" between the Chechen and Ingush peoples. The statement quoted Zyazikov as describing the shooting as "a fatal tragic error," while Kadyrov reportedly argued that it should not negatively impact on relations between Chechens and Ingush. It is not clear why Kadyrov, rather than Zyazikov's Chechen counterpart Alu Alkhanov, signed the statement for the Chechen side. LF

PROSECUTOR DEMANDS 20-YEAR SENTENCE IN KARACHAYEVO-CHERKESSIA MURDER CASE
Prosecutor Dmitry Ivanteyev told the Supreme Court of the Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic (KChR) on September 19 that the preliminary investigation established beyond all reasonable doubt the guilt of 16 men, including Ali Kaitov, the former son-in-law of KChR President Mustafa Batdyev, charged with the murder in October 2004 of seven businessmen, regnum.ru reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 22, 25, and 26, 2004). Ivanteyev said that the accused killed businessman Rasul Bogatyryov because of a criminal dispute over ownership of a local chemical plant, and that the other six victims, all friends of Bogatyryov, were slain simply because they "happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time." Ivanteyev demanded a 20-year sentence for Kaitov, life imprisonment for two of his associates, and prison terms ranging from 2 1/2 to 18 years for the remaining defendants. LF

TERRORIST ATTACKS AVERTED IN NORTH OSSETIA, DAGHESTAN
Police in North Ossetia have arrested five members of unnamed illegal armed formations, all Ingush, whom they suspect of planning a series of terrorist attacks on North Ossetian territory, according to kavkaz.memo.ru on September 19, as reposted on kavkaz.web.net. Quantities of arms and explosives were confiscated at the time of the arrest. North Ossetian Interior Minister Major General Sergei Arenin appealed to all militants in North Ossetia to avail themselves of the offered amnesty. That amnesty has not, however, yet been legally endorsed by the Russian State Duma (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). Also on September 19, local police and Federal Security Service (FSB) personnel in Daghestan located and defused an explosive device planted in a Makhachkala cafe, regnum.ru reported. LF

RULING ARMENIAN PARTY OFFICIAL COMMENTS ON KARABAKH PEACE PROCESS
The parliamentary leader of Armenia's governing Republican Party (HHK), Galust Sahakian, said on September 19 that a negotiated resolution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should not be expected "sooner than 2012," RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The comment was one of the most pessimistic official statements in recent years and seemingly contradicted recent statements by Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian noting that Armenia remains actively engaged in the peace process which international mediators feel may offer a possible breakthrough in the coming months (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). Oskanian is also expected to meet sometime next week with his Azerbaijani counterpart Elmar Mammadyarov during the New York meeting of the UN General Assembly. RG

VISITING ACTIVIST ACCUSES GEORGIA OF 'FORCING' ETHNIC AZERBAIJANIS FROM GEORGIA
Speaking at a press conference in Baku, Alibala Askerov, an ethnic Azeri activist from Georgia, decried on September 19 Georgian state policies as discriminating against local Azeris, Turan reported. Askerov pointed to the failure of land reform in the ethnic Azeri region of southern Georgia and education policies that discriminate against Azeri-language instruction as elements of a concerted campaign "aimed at forcing" Azeris from the country. In recent years, the issue of the large ethnic Azeri population of Georgia has garnered significant attention in Azerbaijan and has prompted the Azerbaijani government to consistently raise the issue in talks with Georgian leaders. RG

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES PIPELINE SECURITY WITH VISITING NATO OFFICIAL
In a meeting in Baku, Colonel General Safar Abiyev discussed on September 19 pipeline security and military reform with the visiting deputy chief of the NATO International Military Center, Vice Admiral Denis Kutluk, Turan reported. Abiyev reiterated Azerbaijan's commitment to the political and military reforms stemming from its membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and International Program of Individual Partnership (IPAP) agreement with NATO. Abiyev also reminded the NATO official that Azerbaijan's pressing concern is "to safeguard the security" of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline and to prepare further steps to ensure the security of the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural-gas pipeline project. RG

NATO POISED TO OFFER NEW TALKS ON CLOSER TIES WITH GEORGIA
Unnamed NATO officials in Brussels said on September 19 that NATO is preparing to formally offer Georgia new talks on forging closer ties to the alliance, RFE/RL reported. The NATO offer of new talks will reportedly be announced during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers set for September 21 in New York. The talks would signify a first step toward Georgia's eventual full membership in the NATO alliance, a strategic priority for the Georgian government since 2003. The move is reportedly linked to the recent visit of Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili to NATO headquarters in Brussels (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 15, 2006). RG

U.S. SIGNS NEW MILITARY ASSISTANCE ACCORD WITH GEORGIA
A visiting U.S. military delegation led by Lieutenant General William Ward, the deputy commander of U.S. European Command (EUCOM), signed on September 19 a new agreement on military assistance with the chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, Colonel General Levan Nikoleishvili, Caucasus Press and Imedi television reported. The new agreement provides some $40 million in assistance as a second phase of a broader program of U.S. military assistance, known as the Sustainment and Stability Operations Program, and includes specific measures to provide training for the individual battalions of the Georgian Army's 2nd and 3rd Brigades for one year. In comments following the signing ceremony in Tbilisi, Ward added that the agreement is "extremely important" and stressed that "the U.S. actively supports the advancement of Georgia's defense capabilities." The announcement comes in the wake of a visit to Georgia by another U.S. military delegation led by Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Eurasia James MacDougall on September 12 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 13, 2006). RG

GEORGIAN MILITARY MARKS AIR FORCE DAY
In a special ceremony at Georgia's Alekseyevka airfield, Georgian armed forces Chief of Staff Colonel General Nikoleishvili and Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava commemorated Air Force Day on September 19, marking the 14th anniversary of the founding of the modern Georgian Air Force, Caucasus Press and Georgian Public Television reported. In comments following the display of new Mi-24 helicopters purchased from Ukraine, Nikoleishvili stressed the improvement in the air force's capabilities and readiness and noted that an increasing number of Georgian pilots are being trained in accordance with NATO standards. Air force commander Alan Lakoev and other military aviation officials also received awards during the ceremony. RG

NEW GEORGIAN NATIONAL GUARD COMMANDER APPOINTED...
In an official announcement, the Georgian ministry of defense reported on September 19 that National Guard commander Akaki Bobokhidze resigned his position to run as a candidate in the upcoming local elections, Caucasus Press reported. Murtaz Gujejiani was named as the newly appointed acting head of the National Guard. RG

...AND GEORGIAN INTELLIGENCE CHIEF NAMED DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER
The chief of the Georgian foreign intelligence service, Batu Kutelia, was appointed on September 19 as a new deputy foreign minister, Caucasus Press and Imedi television reported. Kutelia, a former deputy national security minister, replaces Merab Antadze, who vacated the position after his appointment as minister for conflict resolution in the wake of the dismissal of Giorgi Khaindrava (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 24, 2006). Presidential-administration official Ana Zhvania was named the new head of the foreign intelligence service. RG

LAST MILITARY HARDWARE WITHDRAWN FROM RUSSIAN BASE IN SOUTHERN GEORGIA...
A train transporting the last military hardware from the Russian military base in southern Georgia withdrew on September 19, ITAR-TASS and Caucasus Press reported. The departure of the train, loaded with hardware, antiaircraft weapons, and assorted supplies, marked the complete withdrawal of armaments from the Russian base at Akhalkalaki. The Russian military is also preparing to complete its withdrawal from its base in Batumi by next year. The Batumi military base is the last of four Russian facilities within Georgia. RG

...AS GEORGIAN TROOPS DETAIN RUSSIAN MILITARY CONVOY
Georgian troops detained on September 19 a Russian military convoy of trucks at a border-crossing point with Azerbaijan, Imedi television and Rustavi-2 television reported. The troops prevented the Russian trucks from entering Georgia and demanded that they undergo a thorough inspection by customs officials and pay "customs fees." The incident quickly led to a standoff, as Russian military officers accompanying the convoy refused the demand, arguing that all Russian military cargo and supplies are exempt from Georgian customs. As the incident escalated, Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Mamuka Kudava announced that the terms of the agreement governing the Russian withdrawal from its bases in the country clearly stipulates that "only cargo essential for the process of ending the operation of the bases do not require customs clearance." The Russian convoy is transporting food, fuel, and supplies from Azerbaijan destined for the remaining Russian troops in Georgia. RG

KAZAKHSTAN REPORTS ON TALKS WITH RUSSIA ON JOINT URANIUM ENRICHMENT...
Sergey Yashin, the vice president of Kazakhstan's national nuclear company, Kazatomprom, announced on September 19 that Kazakhstan has opened talks with Russia to discuss possible Kazakh participation in a project to establish an international uranium-enrichment center in Russia, Interfax reported. In response to journalists' questions at a news conference in Almaty, Yashin explained that the "proposal to discuss the issue of setting up the international center" as a joint venture between Kazakhstan and Russia follows an earlier agreement reached between the two countries in July providing for the extraction of uranium in Kazakhstan and its enrichment in Russia. The two countries have also agreed to develop new types of nuclear reactors of small and medium capacity for third countries, he said. State-held Kazatomprom is Kazakhstan's national exporter of uranium and is among the top three uranium-extracting companies in the world. RG

...AND ANNOUNCES TALKS WITH CHINA ON 'JOINT PROJECTS'
Speaking to reporters in Almaty, Kazatomprom Vice President Yashin announced on September 19 that talks with the China National Nuclear Corporation "are now under way" on joint projects, according to Interfax. Yashin added that although the Chinese previously delayed talks, the adoption of a Kazakh nuclear-energy development program has led to a resumption. He also said the Chinese are most interested in Kazakhstan's Kharasan uranium deposits in the southern Kyzylorda region. RG

KAZAKHSTAN PRESENTED WITH PROPOSAL FOR CANAL LINKING CASPIAN AND AZOV SEAS
Speaking at a news conference in Almaty on September 19, Eurasian Economic Community Deputy Secretary-General Serik Primbetov announced that a Russian plan to dig a canal linking the Caspian Sea with the Azov Sea in Kazakhstan was presented to Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev and other senior officials, Interfax reported. It remains unclear whether Kazakhstan supports the plan, which calls for the construction of a 600-kilometer canal from the Caspian to the Azov. Primbetov conceded that financing for the ambitious project has not been found. RG

KAZAKH SECURITY UNITS STAGE COUNTERTERRORISM EXERCISES
Units of the Kazakh National Security Committee conducted full-scale counterterrorism exercises on September 19, Interfax reported. The exercises included a simulated terrorist takeover of a civilian airliner at the Karaganda airport in central Kazakhstan. Special units from the Kazakh army, Interior Ministry, and emergency-response personnel, as well as local police officers, participated. RG

KYRGYZ DEPUTIES CALLS FOR DOWNSIZING OF DEFENSE MINISTRY
Addressing the Kyrgyz parliament on September 19, several deputies called for a sharp downsizing of the Defense Ministry, AKIpress reported. Parliamentarian Arzybek Burkhanov called for a reduction in the "unjustified" size of the ministry, which he said has 7,800 servicemen, 2,500 of whom are officers and warrant officers, and argued that a number of officers should be transferred to the Border Service, since the Kyrgyz borders are "practically open." Supporting Burkhanov's proposal, lawmaker Dooronbek Sadyrbayev added that the army has far too many senior officers, noting that there are 1,300 generals and colonels. A third legislator, Temir Sariyev, called for an outright abolition of the Defense Ministry, criticizing it for inefficient and wasteful spending. RG

TAJIK OPPOSITION PARTY CONSIDERS ELECTION BOYCOTT
A regional leader of the Tajik opposition Democratic Party, Rajab Mirzo, announced in Dushanbe on September 19 that the party is considering a boycott of the November 6 presidential election, according to Regnum. A regional congress of the Democratic Party in Sughd proposed the boycott on September 17, arguing that the party should adopt the same tactics as its boycott of the Tajik constitutional amendments in 2003. The party leadership is scheduled to announce a final decision on the boycott issue during a party meeting set for September 24. Some 700 international observers are expected to monitor the Tajik presidential election, including 200 observers from the OSCE alone, Asia-Plus reported. RG

JOINT UZBEK-RUSSIAN COUNTERTERRORISM DRILLS START
A force of roughly 130 Uzbek special forces troops began on September a five-day joint counterterrorism exercise with Russian forces in Russia's southern Krasnodar Krai, Interfax reported. Both the Russian and Uzbek defense ministers are expected to attend the exercise, which is designed to coordinate a joint response to a possible terrorist incident. RG

BELARUSIAN COURT REJECTS APPEAL BY IMPRISONED OPPOSITION LEADER
The Minsk City Court on September 19 rejected former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin's appeal against a prison sentence of 5 1/2 years he received in July, Belapan and RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. Kazulin was not allowed to attend the court session. In July, Kazulin was found guilty of hooliganism and the organization of group actions disturbing the public peace during opposition protests that followed the March 19 presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 14, 2006). JM

BELARUSIAN CUSTOMS TO PLANT AGENTS AMONG TOURISTS
State Customs Committee Chairman Alyaksandr Shpileuski told journalists in Minsk on September 19 that his committee will place agents among passengers of interstate tourist coaches to combat corruption at the border, Belapan reported. Shpileuski said he has received reports that bus drivers illegally collect money from passengers and hand it to Belarusian customs officers and border guards. "We are concerned over these reports. They so far have not been quite confirmed, but we realize that we must check on them," he added. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL AIDE SLAMS PARLIAMENT FOR 'CONFRONTATIONAL' RESOLUTION
Viktor Baloha, newly appointed head of the Presidential Secretariat, said on September 19 that a resolution adopted by the Verkhovna Rada earlier the same day to support Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's stance on NATO is of a "confrontational character," Ukrainian media reported. Yanukovych said at NATO headquarters in Brussels last week that Ukraine is not ready yet to join NATO's Membership Action Plan (see "RFE/RL's Newsline," September 15, 2006). "The resolution is of a purely political character and entails no legal consequences. Parliament broke [its own] rules and procedures, as the draft resolution had not been considered by the relevant Verkhovna Rada committee," Baloha added. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SETS MINIMUM SIZE OF DEPUTY FACTIONS
The Verkhovna Rada on September 19 amended the provision in its statute stipulating that the parliamentary caucus of a party or bloc must comprise the same number of deputies that were elected from the election list of that party or bloc, Ukrainian media reported. Under a new rule, at least 15 deputies are needed to form a caucus in parliament. Moreover, lawmakers renewed the former rule allowing a deputy expelled from his/her caucus to declare himself/herself independent and to subsequently join the opposition or the ruling coalition. JM

BLAST IN ILL-FATED UKRAINIAN MINE KILLS AT LEAST 13
An explosion in the Zasyadko coal mine in Donetsk on September 20 killed at least 13 miners and injured 62, UNIAN reported. The fate of nearly 30 miners remains unknown. Officials said the explosion was caused by a mixture of coal powder and methane. Blasts in the same mine killed 50 miners in May 1999, 55 in August 2001, and 20 in July 2002. JM

BOSNIA'S INTERNATIONAL OVERSEER THREATENS TO SACK BOSNIAN SERB PREMIER
High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling is prepared to use his authority to fire Republika Srpska Prime Minister Milorad Dodik if he continues to push for an independence referendum, Reuters reported on September 19, citing spokesman Chris Bennet. "He said that if Dodik continued to call for a referendum, he would have to remove him," Schwarz-Schilling's spokesman Chris Bennet said. Schwarz-Schilling made the comments during a visit to Vienna on September 18, Bennet said. According to the Sarajevo daily "Dnevni avaz," Schwarz-Schilling also told Austrian radio and the Vienna-based newspaper "Der Standard" that Serbia has been manipulating the independence issue in Republika Srpska to gain leverage in Kosova's final-status negotiations (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). Bennett could not confirm Schwarz-Schilling's comments as reported by "Dnevni avaz," Reuters reported. "What we are clear about is that there could be no linkage between Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina," Bennett said. BW

BOSNIAN PROSECUTOR SAYS HE WON'T SIGN ON TO WAR CRIMES TRIAL AGREEMENT
Bosnia-Herzegovina's chief prosecutor, Marinko Jurcevic, said on September 19 that he is opposed to Sarajevo joining an agreement between Serbia and Croatia on trying of war crimes suspects, B92 and Beta reported the same day. According to the Serbian-Croatian agreement, future war crimes suspects will be tried in the country in which they are residing when arrested. In the past, suspects were tried where the offense took place (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 18, 2006). "I would never in my dreams consider signing this agreement," Jurcevic told "Dnevni avaz." "Everyone who has any information on how I look at the way in which war crimes cases are handled knows that I, with my heart and soul, insist that the trials be held in the countries in which the crimes were allegedly committed," he added. BW

SERBIAN PREMIER MEETS RADICAL PARTY LEADER ON CONSTITUTION
Vojislav Kostunica and Serbian Radical Party (SRS) leader Tomislav Nikolic met on September 19 to discuss what they consider the urgent need to rapidly pass a new constitution, B92 reported the same day. Kostunica and other Serbian leaders have said they plan to pass a new constitution, including Kosova as an integral part of the country, as a way to gain leverage in its final-status talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 14, 2006). "Kostunica and Nikolic confirmed that the decision of the parliament obligates all state institutions and all parliamentary parties to increase their efforts in order to finish and agree upon the text of the new Serbian Constitution," a Serbian government statement describing the meeting said. "This would enable a timely response by Serbia to the possible imposing of a solution for the Kosovo status question." BW

U.S. REJECTS REFERENDUM, SAYS TRANSDNIESTER PART OF MOLDOVA
The United States announced on September 18 that is will not recognize the results of an independence referendum in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region, dpa reported the same day. "As the international community has made clear, [Transdniester] is a part of Moldova, and efforts by the [Transdniester] regime should not be recognized as anything other than an attempt to destabilize Moldova," U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. The European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have also said they will not recognize the referendum, in which Transdniester's voters overwhelmingly supported independence and eventual unification with Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 19, 2006). BW

TRANSDNIESTER LEADER SAYS NO UNION WITH MOLDOVA
Transdniestrian President Igor Smirnov said on September 19 that the breakaway region does not intend to remain part of Moldova, RBC reported the same day. At a press conference in Tiraspol, Smirnov said he is ready to hold negotiations with Chisinau to normalize relations, but that Transdniester is not interested in forming a common state with Moldova. Smirnov went on to blame the separatist crisis on authorities in Chisinau, saying that Transdniester has tried to preserve the country's unity over the years. Smirnov was scheduled to arrive in Moscow on September 19 for consultations with Russian officials, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. BW

SALMON INJUNCTION COULD AID GAZPROM'S SAKHALIN BID
No company, it seems, not even international energy giant Shell, can act with impunity in Russia. On September 18, Russia's Federal Service for the Supervision of Natural Resources issued an injunction forbidding Shell and its Japanese partners from any further work on the Sakhalin-2 oil and gas production project.

The reason given is that the project is supposedly endangering the salmon population on the Russian Pacific island.

The decision has angered the Japanese. Two Japanese firms, Mitsui and Mitsubishi, own 45 percent of the project, and Shell the rest. Sakhalin-2 is the only energy project in Russia fully owned by foreigners.

The project came to life in 1993 as a production-sharing agreement to develop the vast oil and gas fields on and around the island and construct a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal to ship the product to Japan, South Korea, China, and the United States.

The Japanese companies are concerned about delays as they have a contract with Japan's largest electricity producer, Tokyo Electric Power Company, to begin deliveries of LNG in 2008. Immediately after the Russian announcement on September 18, both companies took a beating on the Tokyo stock exchange, with Mitsubishi shares falling by as much as 2.8 percent and Mitsui by as much as 4.1 percent.

Expressing official discontent with the Russian decision, Japanese government spokesman Shinzo Abe warned that diplomatic relations between Japan and Russia could be hurt by Russia's revocation of environmental approvals. "I am concerned that major delays might have a negative influence on overall Japan-Russia relations," Abe told a news conference.

But the Russian side also has grievances about the way the Sakhalin-2 project has developed. Shell announced in July 2005 that the costs of Sakhalin-2 were now estimated at $20 billion -- $10 billion more than originally planned. Russia has said the state will lose billions in expected shared revenues because of the cost overrun.

Analysts have suggested that Russia is using the environmental injunction as leverage in state gas monopoly Gazprom's bid to purchase a 25 percent stake in Sakhalin-2.

Using government rulings to win a commercial advantage is not a new tactic for Gazprom. According to "The Moscow Times" in March 2003, in Gazprom's dispute with BP-TNK over control of the giant Kovytka gas field there were "unconfirmed reports that the Natural Resources Ministry has been seeking to revoke the license to Kovytka held by Russia Petroleum, of which TNK and BP are the major shareholders."

The ongoing effort to regain the state's grip on energy resources in Russia is definitely making headway. The Russian daily "Vedomosti" recently reported that Gazprom is seeking to buy into BP-TNK and that TNK's three private Russian partners are willing to sell their shares.

And on September 18, Interfax reported that Sergei Fedorov, an official at Russia's Natural Resources Ministry, said that not only Shell, but all the companies involved in the three Sakhalin projects, including U.S.-based ExxonMobil and French-based Total, had violated "technical" provisions in their licenses and these could also be revoked.

ExxonMobil is due to begin operations at its Pacific oil-export terminal on October 4. Shell in the meantime is protesting the injunction, saying the project fully complies with Russian and international environmental standards.

ELEVEN SUSPECTED NEO-TALIBAN KILLED IN SOUTHERN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan security forces killed 11 suspected neo-Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan on September 19, Xinhua news agency reported. "Eight Taliban fighters were killed in a clash with government troops in Garmser district on [September 18], and three others were killed in the district this morning," said Ghulam Rasould Aka, chief of the district police in the area. Aka also said four neo-Taliban fighters were wounded in the fighting. No Afghan security forces were hurt in the firefight, Aka said. The Garmser district is in Helman Province, an area where neo-Taliban guerrillas are increasingly active. MR

COLOMBIAN HOSTAGE ABDUCTED IN AFGHANISTAN SAID TO BE ALIVE
The employer of a Colombian aid worker and two Afghan nationals abducted recently said on September 19 that the captives are alive, AFP reported. Madera, a nongovernmental organization that focuses on rural development projects in Afghanistan, said in a statement that it has proof that the three hostages are "alive and as much as can be expected they are in good health." The statement said the orgnanization hopes to see the hostages freed soon, although it denied offering any ransom payment. "Concerning the identity of the kidnappers and their political, religious, and tribal affiliations, the information is confusing and contradictory," Madera said. "The one thing certain is that they belong to a group whose actions aim to hamper the process of normalization in Afghanistan." MR

NATO CLAIMS MAJOR BLOW AGAINST INSURGENTS
The top NATO general in Afghanistan, British Lieutenant General David Richards, said on September 19 that coalition forces in recent days have dealt the harshest blow yet to neo-Taliban fighters, AFP reported. "We have comprehensively defeated the Taliban in their biggest defeat since 2001," Richards told reporters following a visit to the restive Panjwayi district of southern Kandahar Province. NATO claims to have killed more than 500 neo-Taliban insurgents in the last two weeks. On September 18, three insurgent bombings across Afghanistan killed at least 21 people, including four Canadian soldiers. "It should go down in history and it could go down in history as the turning point in this campaign," Richards said. MR

BUSH, KARZAI, MUSHARRAF TO MEET IN WASHINGTON
The White House announced on September 19 that U.S. President George W. Bush will host a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Washington on September 27, AFP reported. "The meeting will provide the three leaders an opportunity to discuss further cooperation in enhancing the trilateral relationship," Bush spokesman Tony Snow said in a White House statement. Tensions remain high between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Afghanistan regularly accuses Pakistan of doing too little to stop neo-Taliban fighters from moving back and forth across the porous border between the two countries. Pakistan denies this. MR

SUICIDE-BOMBER LEADER ARRESTED IN AFGHANISTAN
Afghan security forces said on September 19 that they arrested a ringleader of a suicide-bomber squad, AFP reported. Ali Shah Paktiawal, a lead police investigator in Kabul, said authorities arrested university student Bahadur Khan Jihadyar on the outskirts of the capital. Police made the arrest on September 14. Three others were detained in a separate arrest the same day, Paktiawal said. "This man is one of the team we captured [on September 16]," Paktiawal said. Neo-Taliban forces claim that they have hundreds of suicide attackers ready to strike. MR

IRANIAN PRESIDENT DENOUNCES SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBERS IN UN ADDRESS
President Mahmud Ahmadinejad addressed the UN General Assembly on the evening of September 19, "The New York Times" reported. Ahmadinejad said the UN Security Council, of which China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are permanent members, is not impartial. "Excellencies, the question needs to be asked, if the governments of the United States or the United Kingdom commit atrocities or violate international law, which of the organizations in the United Nations can take them to account?" Ahmadinejad asked. In discussing the recently concluded conflict in Lebanon, he said, "Apparently the Security Council can only be used to ensure the right of the big powers." He criticized the Security Council for not demanding a cease-fire in Lebanon more quickly. Ahmadinejad made repeated references to the council's legitimacy. BS

U.S. PRESIDENT ADDRESSES IRANIANS DIRECTLY AT UN GENERAL ASSEMBLY
In his September 19 address to the UN General Assembly, U.S. President George W. Bush directed some of his comments to "the people of Iran," according to the White House website and Radio Farda. Bush told Iranians that the "greatest obstacle" to determining their own futures, having a rewarding economy, and a society that lets them fulfill their potential is their "rulers," who "have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation's resources to fund terrorism, and fuel extremism, and pursue nuclear weapons." Bush said Iran must abandon "its nuclear weapons ambitions," adding that the United States does not oppose Iran's having a peaceful nuclear program. "We look to the day when you can live in freedom -- and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace," Bush said. He went on to advise the Syrian people that "your government is turning your country into a tool of Iran," adding, "This is increasing your country's isolation from the world." BS

LEADING REGIME FIGURE CONSIDERS ANOTHER ELECTION IN IRAN
Hojatoleslam Hassan Ibrahimi said on September 19 that Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is considering the possibility of competing in the mid-December Assembly of Experts elections, Mehr News Agency reported. Ibrahimi, a member of the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association (Jameh-yi Ruhaniyat-i Mobarez-i Tehran), said his group is encouraging Hashemi-Rafsanjani's candidacy. Hashemi-Rafsanjani is already a member of the assembly and is viewed as a possible chairman. Leading figures in the conservative Tehran Militant Clergy Association met with Hashemi-Rafsanjani recently, Aref website reported on September 19. One of them, Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi-Kani, reportedly advised Hashemi-Rafsanjani that he is "still one of the principal mainstays of the system and leadership" and added that it his responsibility to "stand and serve the system at sensitive junctures." Hashemi-Rafsanjani reportedly told his interlocutors that his participation is unnecessary and would not make a difference. He added that he is already being criticized and pointed at his unsuccessful presidential effort in 2005. BS

IRANIAN NUCLEAR CHIEF MEETS WITH IAEA COUNTERPART
Gholam-Reza Aqazadeh-Khoi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, met on September 19 in Vienna with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director-General Muhammad el-Baradei, state television and IRNA reported. Aqazadeh said afterward that the IAEA does not appreciate Iran's extensive cooperation. Aqazadeh added that he briefed el-Baradei on Iran's talks on the nuclear issue with EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana. In New York on September 19, President Ahmadinejad criticized the United Nations' stance on the nuclear issue, state television reported. "The UN approach toward global issues is an illogical one which manifests itself in various forms in Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and Sudan," he said. "The UN behavior toward Iran's nuclear program is also another example of this unjust behavior which should be corrected," the president added. BS

IRANIAN, BRITISH CONSULATES ATTACKED IN IRAQ
The Iranian and British consulates came under attack in separate incidents in the southern Iraqi city of Al-Basrah on September 19, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Police sources in the city said that two rockets hit the outer wall of the Iranian Consulate, and a third rocket landed on a nearby police car. A British military spokesman said one mortar shell landed inside the consulate's compound. There were no apparent injuries in either attack. Police in Al-Basrah said they arrested 130 suspected insurgents on September 19, dpa reported on September 20. An unidentified police spokesman said the arrests were part of a new security crackdown on the city. KR

IRAQI HIGH TRIBUNAL REPLACES CHIEF JUDGE IN ANFAL TRIAL
The Iraqi High Tribunal replaced the chief judge in the Anfal trial on September 20 following a request from Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet, international media reported. The cabinet made the request following public pressure to replace Judge Abdallah al-Amiri after he told Saddam Hussein last week that he was not a dictator (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 15, 2006). Al-Amiri's deputy, Shi'ite Judge Muhammad al-Uraybi, took over the trial and made it clear that he will not tolerate inappropriate behavior, throwing Saddam Hussein out of the courtroom after the former president refused to sit down. Defense lawyers left the courtroom in protest, but the trial continued. Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice Program at Human Rights Watch, criticized the move, saying the cabinet "has not only interfered with the court's independence but greatly undermined the court's own appearance of neutrality and objectivity," Reuters reported. "The transfer effectively sends a chilling message to all judges: toe the line or risk removal," Dicker added. KR

IRAQI SHI'ITE PARTY REPORTEDLY RUNNING NEIGHBORHOOD-WATCH GROUPS
The Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) has begun neighborhood-watch groups in the holy city of Al-Najaf, London's "The Times" reported on September 19. SCIRI head Abd al-Aziz al-Hakim proposed the establishment of neighborhood-watch groups last month, but was quickly attacked by Sunni parties, who said his plan was an attempt to legitimize the operations of militias, which have been banned by the government. Members of the neighborhood-watch group told the daily that over 150 people have signed up for the watch, and are working in 10-member squads, patrolling the neighborhoods and reporting suspicious people to SCIRI's armed wing, the Badr Corps. Members are paid $50 per month, while the squad's leader is paid $100 per month. Members said the groups began patrolling some three weeks ago. The daily reported that a second neighborhood-watch group has been established in the nearby holy city of Al-Kufah. KR

U.S. COMMANDER SAYS NO TROOP REDUCTIONS THIS YEAR
U.S. General John Abizaid, commander of U.S. Central Command, told reporters at a September 19 Pentagon press briefing that it is unlikely the United States will reduce its troop numbers in Iraq this year. "This level [of more than 140,000 troops] will probably have to be sustained through the spring," he said. Abizaid said that continued sectarian violence and the current deficiencies of the Iraqi security forces prevent hoped-for troop reductions. Asked about the possibility of civil war in Iraq, Abizaid said, "I do believe that the secular tensions, if left unchecked, could be fatal to Iraq." He added that he believes it will take at least two more months to bring security in Baghdad under control. Abizaid said Iraq can expect increased bloodshed during the holy month of Ramadan, which begins this week, as in other years. KR

KURDISH, MULTINATIONAL FORCES DISCUSS SECURITY TRANSITION
Kurdish regional President Mas'ud Barzani hosted a meeting on regional security attended by representatives from the Iraqi Defense Ministry, the Multinational Security Transition Command, the Kurdish region's Peshmerga Affairs Ministry, and officials from the U.S. and U.K. embassies on September 18, Kurdistan Satellite TV reported on September 19. The meeting reportedly focused on mechanisms for cooperation between multinational forces, and the Iraqi and Kurdish regional governments. It also addressed plans to change the name of the region's peshmerga forces to the Kurdistan Region's Guards, according to the news channel. KR

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