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Newsline - October 23, 2006

Meeting with EU leaders on October 20 in Lahti, Finland, for what Britain's "Financial Times" described as a "tense" summit dinner, President Vladimir Putin did not agree to guarantee Russia's international contracts, open up its energy market, or ratify in its present form the Energy Charter, which Moscow signed with the EU in 1994 and which would require it to open up access to its pipelines, international media reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2006). EU leaders by and large went to great pains to present a united front and stressed the importance of transparency and observing legal norms in developing mutually beneficial energy ties. But the "Financial Times" added that "the meeting with...Putin served as an embarrassing reminder to European leaders that their attempt to build a more equal energy partnership with Russia has yielded few positive results." The summit came against a backdrop of recent Russian moves against Georgia and Georgians living in Russia, the unresolved murder of critical journalist Anna Politkovskaya, questionable Kremlin behavior over the Sakhalin-2 gas production-sharing agreement (PSA) and other PSAs, and remarks by Putin that appeared to make light of serial rape. French President Jacques Chirac, who favors strong ties with Russia as a "counterweight" to the United States, said that "moral issues [and] economic interests...should not be connected." In response, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said that "we have to take a very strong position...[and] find a good balance between [human rights] values and economic interests. It is totally wrong to pay attention only to [economic] interests." PM

Georgia and human rights played only a "marginal role" at the October 20 EU-Russia summit at Lahti, Finland, Germany's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" wrote on October 23. But President Putin stressed that Georgia is to blame for the current tensions, saying that Russia's aim is to "avoid bloodshed." An unnamed "furious diplomat" told the "Financial Times" of October 23 that French President Chirac "hung Georgia out to dry" by refusing to let that issue get in the way of energy discussions. Putin, whom the London daily described as an "implacable dinner guest," sought once again to divide some of the older EU members from the newer ones by "taking pleasure in appearing to confuse Latvia and Lithuania." In a manner reminiscent of Soviet rebuttals of U.S. criticism of Soviet human rights practices by referring to U.S. racial inequalities, Putin responded to negative comments about Russian democracy by noting the extent of corruption in Spanish municipalities, London's "The Guardian" reported on October 23. He left Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi "without words" by pointing out that "mafia" is an Italian word. Putin nonetheless appeared to win at least some approval around the table by remarking that the EU's most important challenge is to "safeguard Christianity in Europe." PM

President Putin left the October 20 Lahti EU-Russia summit by saying that he is that even the "most controversial" differences with the EU can be resolved, RFE/RL reported. The two sides will hold a full summit meeting in Helsinki on November 24. The EU hopes to use that session to launch talks on a new comprehensive cooperation agreement to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which runs out in 2007. Putin said in Lahti that he would like the new accord to be called a Strategic Partnership Treaty, but also suggested energy issues might need to be tackled outside of it. The German Foreign Ministry, which is controlled by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), has drawn up a position paper independent of Chancellor Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union (CDU-CSU), in which the ministry aims to develop the EU's relations with Russia on the basis of an expanding network of interrelationships (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5 and October 19 and 20, 2006). In January 2007, Germany will take the rotating chairs of the EU and the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries. PM

Thomas Enders, who is the German co-chief executive of the European aerospace firm EADS, which is primarily a Franco-German enterprise, has welcomed the Russian state's acquisition of a stake in the company, reported on October 23. Enders says cooperation with the Russian aerospace industry is of "strategic importance" for EADS. Russia's state-owned Vneshtorgbank recently confirmed it holds a stake of just over 5 percent in EADS, the parent company of Airbus. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel and the management of EADS, which seeks lucrative U.S. defense contracts, have blocked Russian plans to acquire blocking rights and a seat on the board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 20, and October 10, 11, and 13, 2006). He added that Russia is valuable to EADS not only as a market but as a source of "multifaceted experience in the development and construction of aircraft." Russia's new United Aircraft Company (OAK) seeks a strong foreign partnership to modernize Russia's moribund aerospace industry, which London's "The Times" recently described as a "glorious junkyard." PM

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sought support from top Russian officials in Moscow on October 21 regarding the nuclear programs of North Korea and Iran, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 18 and 19, 2006). But even before she arrived, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov repeated his opposition to tough sanctions against Iran. He told the Kuwaiti news agency KUNA that "any measures of influence should encourage creating conditions for talks." Lavrov added that "we won't be able to support and will oppose any attempts to use the Security Council to punish Iran or to use Iran's [nuclear] program [as an excuse] to promote the idea of regime change there." In addition to discussing North Korea, Rice appealed to Russia and Georgia to reduce the tension between their countries. PM

During her one-day Moscow visit on October 21, Secretary of State Rice gave an interview to "Novaya gazeta," the newspaper for which critical journalist Politkovskaya wrote before her recent murder, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10, 11, 12, and 16, 2006). She also met with Politkovskaya's son. An unnamed senior U.S. State Department official told "The Moscow News" of October 23 that "we planned this not as a poke in the eye [of the Putin regime], but [as] an absolutely necessary and human step." The official also described the meeting with Politkovskaya's family as very emotional for Rice. She told reporters that "the fate of journalists in Russia is a major [U.S.] concern. Anna Politkovskaya was a particularly well-known and well-respected journalist, so I think it's important to note that." In a commentary on the case, London's "The Economist" wrote on October 14 that "whoever killed [Politkovskaya], Putin shares the blame for having made independent journalism both rare and perilous.... It is not there yet, but Russia sometimes seems to be heading towards fascism." PM

U.S. Secretary of State Rice also sought information in Moscow on October 21 about the fate of several hundred foreign NGOs, which are being forced under new legislation to reregister under highly complex and somewhat arbitrary rules in what is widely seen as an attempt to close many of the NGOs, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21 and October 17 and 20, 2006). She said that "in some cases [the legislation] is being implemented in ways that is making it difficult for NGOs to operate, and so I think we have to go over that." U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried met with federal human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin to discuss the law and said later there had been progress. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" reported on October 21 that about 400 out of some 500 foreign NGOs have at least temporarily suspended their operations in Russia pending word from the authorities as to whether they have been reregistered. Many smaller NGOs have left Russia altogether, saying that the complex and drawn-out procedure exhausted their meager resources. Among the NGOs awaiting word of their fate are Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, as well as the institutes linked to the two major U.S. political parties, namely the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and International Republican Institute (IRI). The Kremlin has linked those two institutes to the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the 2003 Rose Revolution in Georgia. The German daily added that Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier has contacted his colleague Lavrov to ensure that German NGOs are not subjected to arbitrary bureaucratic obstacles. PM

Numerous ultranationalist young men ransacked Moscow's Gelman Gallery on October 21, "The Moscow News" reported on October 23. They beat owner Marat Gelman and destroyed paintings by the Georgian-born artist Aleksandr Dzhikia, as well as computers. Gelman later described the attack as "monstrous." The attackers divided into groups to perform specific tasks, the daily "Kommersant" noted. One day earlier, the artworks were en route to an exhibition in London when police took them off a plane at Sheremetyevo Airport. One collage showed a scantily clad President Putin frolicking in bed with a similarly dressed U.S. President George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden. An investigation into the attack is reportedly under way. Ultranationalists and other far-right extremists see the Gelman Gallery as "a hotbed of cosmopolitanism and anti-Russian values," Vladimir Pribylovsky, president of the Panorama think tank, told the daily. "Cosmopolitanism" is a Stalin-era anti-Semitic term. Matthew Bown was transporting the 11 pieces of art from the gallery to his own gallery London when he was ordered off his plane and questioned by police. Officials confiscated the artwork, telling Bown he had been detained because several of the pieces "contain representations of heads of state." "Kommersant" described the incident with the headline: "Art Critics In Black Shirts." PM

With Moscow set to mark the fourth anniversary on October 23 of the Dubrovka theater hostage taking by Chechen militants, relatives of those who died say they plan to sue officials for negligence, news agencies reported. At least 129 hostages and 42 militants died during a bungled rescue bid at the theater, where the musical "Nord-Ost" was playing. Tatyana Karpova, co-chairwoman of a group of former hostages and victims' relatives, said the authorities did not provide proper medical care to freed captives, among other alleged errors. The militants took about 800 people hostage, demanding Russia end the Chechen war. Three days later, special forces pumped a narcotic gas into the theater to knock out the hostage takers. Nearly all the victims died as a result of the effects of the gas. PM

Electoral authorities in Dalnegorsk in Primorsky Krai decided on October 21 to drop plans to hold a mayoral run-off election the following day after the remaining candidates withdrew, Russian news agencies reported. The withdrawals came in response to popular anger following the murder of former mayor and prominent candidate Dmitry Fotyanov, (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19 and 20, 2006). He was one of at least two first-round candidates belonging to the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. In other news, in the central city of Samara on October 23, election officials announced that Viktor Tarkhov of the Party of Life defeated incumbent Mayor Georgy Limansky of Unified Russia in the mayoral race there the previous weekend, Russian news agencies reported. The Party of Life is one of three leftist parties that are joining together to form a Kremlin-sponsored "loyal opposition" for the 2007 parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 12, 2006). PM

Rasul Kudayev, who was detained on October 18 2005 on suspicion of having commanded one of the detachments of young militants who attacked police and security facilities in Nalchik five days earlier, is to remain in pretrial detention for a further six months, until April 17, 2007, according to kavkaz, as reposted on October 20 by The rationale cited for that decision was the need for further investigation in light of the "complicated" nature of his case. Kudayev was captured by U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2001 and held for three years as Guantanamo Bay in Cuba before being released for lack of evidence. His relatives claim he is a semi-invalid and was not physically capable of participating in last year's attacks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 24, 2005). LF

In an October 22 statement posted on the independent website, the Patriotic Union of Youth of North Ossetia expressed concern that the Internet is being abused in both North Ossetia and Ingushetia as a weapon in the dispute over rival territorial claims to North Ossetia's Prigorodny Raion. The statement appeals to unnamed "forces that are trying to destroy the fragile peace in the North Caucasus" to eschew "manifestations of nationalism, xenophobia, and hate speech." The union advocates transferring Prigorodny Raion to Ingushetia in order to end the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 16 and October 2, 2006). On October 20, reported that Ingushetia's two largest Internet providers are blocking access to its site to users within that republic. LF

Ararat Zurabian, the leader of the former ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), announced on October 20 that former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian "will definitely participate" in the country's 2008 presidential election, according to RFE/RL's Armenian Service. Zurabian added that Ter-Petrosian's return to active politics will "completely change the existing situation in Armenia," but noted that he was merely "expressing his personal view" and admitted that he has not discussed the issue with the reclusive former president. Although Zurabian made the same announcement before the 2003 presidential election, Ter-Petrosian failed to enter that race as predicted and has showed no signs of returning to politics. The opposition leader further explained that even without Ter-Petrosian, the opposition party still plans on putting forth a presidential candidate "in any case," and hinted at a possible tactical alliance with other ideologically similar opposition parties prior to the May 2007 parliamentary elections. Despite a recent attempt at regaining its lost political standing in Armenia, the party remains hindered by an internal split between rival actions divided among a group loyal to fugitive former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghian and a rival faction aligned with the former president. RG

In a statement released in Yerevan, Armenian Defense Ministry spokesman Seyran Shahsuvarian confirmed on October 20 that Armenian Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Safar Abiyev at the westernmost section of the heavily militarized frontier along the Armenian-Azerbaijani border, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The ministers, meeting at the initiative of the OSCE officials empowered to monitor the so-called "line of contact" separating both sides, discussed "issues of mutual concern" related to a recent series of cease-fire violations along the border and near Nagorno-Karabakh. RG

A Tbilisi municipal court ruled late on October 20 to release Zaza Sopromadze, the director-general of Georgia's United Fund for Social Security, from detention after he agreed to post some 50,000 lari ($28,500) in bail, ITAR-TASS reported. Arrested on October 19 with six other colleagues, Sopromadze faces criminal charges of "abuse of office," fraud, and embezzlement estimated at roughly 570,000 lari ($325,000). The six other senior officials of the Social Security Fund, including the deputy head of the fund and several departmental heads, were sentenced on October 21 to two months pre-trial detention. RG

EU Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby on October 21 met in Sukhum (Sukhumi) with Sergei Bagapsh and Sergei Shamba, who are president and foreign minister respectively of the unrecognized Republic of Abkhazia, according to and ITAR-TASS. Bagapsh informed the EU envoy that the Abkhaz "position remains unchanged" and reaffirmed the Abkhaz drive for independence. He added that "we do not consider Georgia a reliable partner in the negotiating process" and argued that "Georgia is not ready to solve the problem by peaceful means," further warning that "Georgia is actively preparing for a war with Abkhazia and South Ossetia." Both Abkhaz leaders stressed that Abkhazia is prepared to resume talks with Georgia as soon as that country complies with the October 13 UN Security Council resolution demanding that it withdraw from the Kodori Gorge the troops it deployed there in late July, and also the so-called Abkhaz government in exile, in order to "make it possible to resume the dialogue" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 2006). Accompanied by the German and Finnish ambassadors to Georgia, Patricia Flor and Tery Hakala, respectively, Semneby said that the European Union continues to "show keen interest" in a peaceful settlement of the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict. He further argued that an "orientation to Europe will create conditions for the economic development" of Abkhazia as "close relations with the EU will give guarantees, which are necessary for investors" interested in the region. LF/RG

South Ossetian President Eduard Kokoity reiterated on October 21 his opposition to any reunification with Georgia, according to Interfax and ITAR-TASS. President Kokoity characterized the South Ossetian history as a part of Georgia as one of "our people being threatened with genocide," Interfax reported. The South Ossetia leader echoed the resolve of Abkhaz President Sergei Bagapsh, who similarly contended that Abkhazia "can never live with Georgia" as a unitary state and reaffirmed the Abkhaz drive for independence (see above). Abkhazia also recently appealed to the Russian parliament for formal recognition as an independent state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17 and 19, 2006). RG

Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili pledged on October 21 that Tbilisi will not use force to resolve its conflicts with Abkhazia or South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported. The foreign minister added that the Georgian government has in fact "prepared a statement that sets forth the position of the Georgian authorities on a peaceful solution to these conflicts," and affirmed that Tbilisi pursues "a clear line towards peaceful settlement of these conflicts on the basis of plans drafted by the country's leadership and approved by the OSCE and other international organizations." Bezhuashvili's remarks follow recent statements by Russian President Vladimir Putin during a news conference after an informal EU-Russia summit in which he blamed the Georgian leadership for worsening relations between Moscow and Tbilisi, and accusing Tbilisi of seeking "a favorable climate" for "solving the problems with South Ossetia and Abkhazia by force through bloodshed." RG

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried warned on October 20 that the United States would not support military action by Georgia to regain control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, stating that there is "no military solution to any of these conflicts," ITAR-TASS reported. RG

Opposition parties and political figures expressed outrage on October 20 at President Mikheil Saakashvili's announcement the previous day that he plans to submit to parliament a bill on bringing forward by eight months the date of the presidential election due in January 2009, Caucasus Press reported. Saakashvili reasoned that it would save "time and energy" to hold the presidential ballot concurrently with the parliamentary election. Pikria Chikhradze of the New Conservatives (aka New Rightists) suggested that Saakashvili is concerned at the dwindling popularity of his United National Movement, while Zviad Dzidziguri commented that Saakashvili wants to eradicate the Georgian opposition, Caucasus Press reported. Davit Usupashvili of the opposition Republican Party suggested Saakashvili's proposal was a response to both domestic disillusion and criticism by the EU and U.S. of his policy. Former Foreign Minister Salome Zourabichvili accused Saakashvili of seeking to prevent a redistribution of forces within parliament and to establish totalitarian rule, Caucasus Press reported on October 21. LF

A regional prosecutor in the Kazakh Caspian Sea port of Atyrau, Rakhimbek Mamyrbaev, reported on October 20 that a mass brawl between Kazakh and Turkish construction workers left nearly 140 people injured, Interfax reported. The clash, involving as many as 300 Kazakh and 100 Turkish workers, left 115 seriously wounded and requiring medical attention. The laborers, contracted for the Tengizchevroil joint venture, are working on the construction of a plant near the Tengiz oil field, according to "Kazakhstan Today." RG

The daughter of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev on October 20 accused the Indian-born steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal of responsibility for the deaths of more than 80 Kazakh coal miners in the past three years, RFE/RL reported, citing the weekly "Karavan" newspaper's website. In a "Karavan" interview, Nazarbaeva criticized the Arcelor Mittal group and its executives for failing to ensure adequate safety conditions at several of the coal mines that they operate in Kazakhstan. Nazarbaeva, who holds a seat in the parliament, added that Kazakhstan must improve its labor laws and called for greater legislative oversight over foreign investors. After protests over a gas explosion in September that killed 41 Kazakh miners, the Arcelor Mittal group raised the monthly salaries of its employees to the equivalent of at least $700 and pledged to address safety concerns in the mines. RG

Prosecutors in the central Kazakh region of Qaraghandy announced on October 19 the arrest of a fifth coal-mine employee over the gas explosion that claimed 41 lives in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 21, 2006), according to "Kazakhstan Today." The latest arrest, which reportedly took place on October 14, follows the arrest of four other mine officials on charges of criminal negligence. RG

A planned meeting between Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and leaders of the opposition was canceled on October 21 after some opposition leaders objected to the size of the presidential delegation, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported. The meeting was intended to ease tensions between the opposition and the Kyrgyz president before a planned opposition rally set for November 2 in Bishkek. Galina Kulikova, the leader of the Menin Olkom (My Country) party, said that opposition For Reforms movement leader Temir Sariev was responsible for calling off the meeting, although "the presidential administration was prepared" to meet "all the conditions presented" by the opposition for the talks. Tursunbek Akun, the head of the presidential Human Rights Commission, blamed both sides and urged them to engage in a constructive dialogue. RG

Kyrgyz opposition lawmaker Azimbek Beknazarov announced on October 20 that he and two other opposition leaders declined an offer of state jobs by President Kurmanbek Bakiev, AKIpress and the website reported. Speaking to reporters in Bishkek, Beknazarov said that he was offered the position of Supreme Court chairman, while former Trade Minister Almazbek Atambaev was promised the prime ministerial post and Omurbek Tekebaev was offered his former position as parliamentary speaker. A second opposition parliamentarian, Melis Eshimkanov, also reported to the parliament that he was given assurances from an unnamed senior presidential official that Bakiev would meet with opposition leaders. RG

A play purportedly written by Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov opened in five theaters in the capital, Ashgabat, on October 21, according to Interfax. An unnamed Culture Ministry official explained that the theaters chose to offer stage productions based on Niyazov's "immortal works." In a televised address the same day, Niyazov appealed to the Turkmen public to not praise him so often, saying that "it is hard for me to listen to applause meant only for me." RG

President Niyazov admitted on October 20 for the first time that he suffers from a heart condition, the website reported. In a speech to a "world congress of ethnic Turkmen," President Niyazov explained that he is unable to fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan because he has to take medication for an unspecified "heart ailment." Niyazov's health has long been the object of speculation, exacerbated by reports in the state-controlled media that has undergone medical checkups twice this year. RG

Alyaksandr Kazulin, the imprisoned leader of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada), went on an open-ended hunger strike on October 20 with a view to drawing the attention of the Belarusian public and the world community to the situation in the country, Belapan reported. The same day the Political Council of United Pro-democratic Forces adopted an appeal to Kazulin to abandon his strike. Also the same day, Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich sent an appeal to the parliamentary leaders of the European Union, the United States, Russia, Ukraine, and other countries to come out in support of those persecuted in Belarus for their political convictions and urge the Belarusian authorities to stop their crackdown on opponents and release all political prisoners. Former presidential candidate Kazulin was sentenced in July to 5 1/2 years in prison for hooliganism and incitement to disorder after urging demonstrators during the postelection protests in Belarus in March to march on a prison where some of their comrades were being held. JM

Speaking at a congress of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine People's Union in Kyiv on October 23, President Viktor Yushchenko urged its participants to introduce profound reforms in the party in order to "help Our Ukraine become a social factor," Ukrainian media reported, quoting the presidential press service. Yushchenko also called on Our Ukraine to revise its statute and change its leaders. Yushchenko recommended that delegates to the congress set up working groups to formulate proposals on how to tackle these challenges and then discuss them at the second round of the congress. "The orange forces have lost their positions because of the faulty policy, often blinded by ambitions and faith that there is no responsibility, mainly personal responsibility," the president noted. "I do not want the party to become a joint-stock company, whose major shareholders can monopolistically decide what the party needs, caring mainly about their private interests," he added. The congress decided to reconvene after three weeks. JM

Foreign Minister Borys Tarasyuk told journalists in Lviv on October 21 that the Cabinet of Ministers and the Verkhovna Rada are slow in adopting legislation required for Ukraine's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Interfax-Ukraine reported. "Regarding the WTO, the latest news does not inspire optimism. Both the government and the parliament are disrupting the timetable for accession to the WTO. This is very alarming," Tarasyuk said. On October 20 President Yushchenko submitted nine WTO-related draft bill to the Verkhovna Rada, including amendments to laws on insurance, the state regulation of sugar production and sales, meat and milk products, licensing, and excise duties on the production of spirits and tobacco goods. During the same conference in Lviv, Tarasyuk said he is not going to step down as leader of the People's Rukh of Ukraine, a component of the pro-presidential Our Ukraine bloc. Last week Our Ukraine went into opposition to the cabinet of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko and withdrew its four ministers from the government (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 17, 19, and 20, 2006) Tarasyuk was appointed to the post of foreign minister directly by President Yushchenko. JM

In comments published on October 21, the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia's (ICTY) Chief Prosecutor Carla Del Ponte said war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic was hiding in Serbia. In an interview published in the French daily newspaper "Liberation," Del Ponte said Mladic is in Serbia, in and around Belgrade. Del Ponte said she wanted Mladic to stand trial together with seven other defendants accused of participating in the July 1995 Srebrenica massacre (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 22 and 23, 2006). "The priority is Mladic because the Srebrenica trial with seven defendants has started and it's an opportune moment to put him into the larger trial" she said. AFP quoted Serbian President Boris Tadic as saying that he has "no such information" that Mladic was near Belgrade. BW

Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic said on October 22 that it is doubtful that officials in Serbia's Security and Intelligence Agency (BIA) do not know where Mladic is hiding, B92 reported the same day. "The story that they don't know where Mladic is hiding is inexplicable," Draskovic said. "If by some chance they really didn't know where he was, they ought to take down the plaque [on their headquarters] reading, 'BIA' and put up one reading 'Mushroom growing' instead," he added. "My personal experience tells me they know all they choose to know." BW

In comments published in the Serbian media on October 22, Vojislav Kostunica said Serbia was confident that Russia and China would block Kosova's independence in the United Nations Security Council, AP reported the same day. "Russia's stand is very clear, and China's is not far away," Kostunica said in remarks reported by the daily "Vecernje novosti." "Many realize that independence would be a bullying solution," he added. Kostunica added that he believed Russian President Vladimir Putin and other officials would continue to "insist on finding a compromise solution and on respecting international law." Kostunica acknowledged that the UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who is drafting a proposal for Kosova's future status, favored "some form of independence - conditional, postponed, limited." But implementing Ahtisaari's proposal will be difficult, he added. "I do not see any form of independence winning unanimous the Security Council," he said. BW

Bosnia-Herzegovina has signed an interim free-trade agreement with Kosova, Makfax reported on October 20. The agreement was signed in Brussels on October 19 by Bosnia's Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Ril and the head of the United Nations Mission in Kosova's (UNMIK) Economic Policy Office Andreas Wittkowsky. Rill said the agreement would "boost trade," while Wittkowsky said it would help Kosova improve its economy. "This FTA with Bosnia-Herzegovina is another step for Kosova in catching up with the countries of the region, which have established a network of bilateral free-trade agreements," Wittkowsky said according to a report on the website "Economic Initiative For Kosova" ( BW

High Representative Christian Schwarz-Schilling on October 20 urged Bosnia-Herzegovina's newly elected leadership to restart stalled reforms aimed at moving the country closer to European Union membership, AP reported the same day. The reforms, which include constitutional changes to transfer more power to the central government and uniting the country's ethnically divided police forces, have been held up by disagreements among Bosnia's ethnic communities. "The reform process came to a standstill before the elections. This is unacceptable. The reform process must be restarted not next month, not in January, but now," Schwarz-Schilling told reporters in Sarajevo. He added that he expects the new leaders to immediately "get down to work." The results of Bosnia's elections, which were announced last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2006), showed a move away from the nationalist parties that have dominated the country's politics since the 1992-95 war. BW

Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasile Sova said on October 19 that renewed consultations on Transdniester have given him hope that a resolution is possible, Moldpres reported the same day. "The international community shows an increased interest in Moldova and a special interest in settling the Transdniestrian conflict," Sova said. "We are glad about it. We hope the conflict will be solved. Since the negotiations' format was extended, we hope for success in [the] near future," he added. In an effort to restart talks, Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) began consultations with Moldovan and Transdniestrian officials on October 18 in Odesa, Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19 and 20, 2006). Adriaan Jacobovits de Szeged, the EU Special Representative for Moldova, said Chisinau was showing a willingness to cooperate that was not being reciprocated by Transdniester, Moldpres reported. "I am glad that we met after a long time, although I ascertained that if Chisinau is ready to compromises then Tiraspol is not," de Szeged said. BW

Last winter, the Ukrainians were left shivering after Russia cut off gas supplies. This year, there's a chance it could be the Russians feeling the freeze.

There are concerns that domestically Russia's state-controlled gas monopoly Gazprom will be unable to supply electricity-generating companies with enough gas. If that happens, it could mean brownouts and blackouts this winter.

Such a scenario nearly occurred last year. Mosenergo, the majority shareholder in Russia's Unified Energy Systems (EES) electricity monopoly, supplies electricity to the Moscow region.

In the winter of 2005-2006, it was faced with a severe lack of gas to power its generating plants. Gazprom was forced to briefly limit supplies to Europe in order to keep the lights on in Moscow.

EES head Anatoliy Chubais is concerned. He has placed the blame for the potential gas deficit squarely on Gazprom, which controls 25 percent of the world's gas reserves and 94 percent of Russia's natural gas. Chubais has said that Gazprom is unable or unwilling to supply generating companies in Russia with enough gas and this has forced them to buy more expensive diesel fuel to power their plants.

In 2006 alone, the cost of diesel has risen by over 85 percent, while the price consumers are charged for electricity has remained low.

Gas shortages began during the winter of 2005-2006 and EES instructed its thermal-generation plants to switch to other fuels -- diesel and coal. In the first eight months of 2006 the use of diesel increased by 35 percent and coal by 9 percent.

According to Chubais, the gas shortage makes the present cost of diesel fuel equivalent to a price of $185 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas. EES buys gas from Gazprom at $46 per 1,000 cubic meters.

Chubais told the "Vedomosti" business daily on September 28 that when he met with Gazprom CEO Aleksei Miller to discuss this problem, Miller told him to switch to other fuels.

EES is also buying electricity from abroad. In October, EES entered into negotiations with the Ukrainian Fuel and Energy Ministry to buy excess electricity. According to the October 2 issue of the "Kommersant" daily, EES has agreed to purchase from Ukraine some 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) to make up for expected shortfalls in the European part of Russia.

Most experts agree that Russia's domestic gas shortage is due to Gazprom's paltry investments and the company's desire to expand in too many directions at once.

With Gazprom's main gas fields running low, industry analysts say the company has not done enough to invest in exploration and development of new fields in the Yamal Peninsula. Instead, the company, which is $38 billion in debt, has concentrated on noncore activities such as buying into European energy companies. In September 2005, Gazprom spent $13 billion to buy oil giant Sibneft in order to transform itself into an integrated energy company.

It looks like the Putin-Miller team might have overextended itself. Many analysts believe that Putin's promise in March to supply China with 30-35 billion cubic meters of gas by 2025 is unrealistic as is Gazprom's decision to develop the giant Shtokman gas field without the help of foreign partners.

One possible solution to the gas deficit could be the liberalization of Russia's gas market -- something the European Union is pushing for.

Chubais believes that the gas market should be liberalized along European lines and that Gazprom's pipelines be opened to independent gas producers. He says that the extra income generated by these reforms could be used to construct new underground gas storage facilities.

In September, Russian Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko said that a liberalized gas market in Russia is possible and that it could encompass over 100 billion cubic meters of domestic gas sales. However, a liberalized gas market could cause consumer electricity prices to rise as it would spell the end of Gazprom's subsidized pricing system.

The new Russian strategy to expand nuclear power generation could well be a feasible long-term solution to declining gas supplies, but in the meantime, residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg should brace themselves for a frosty winter.

A website purporting to represent the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan -- the name of the country under the Taliban -- posted a message for Eid al-Fitr from "Mullah Mohammad Omar Mujahed, the Amir al-Mo'menin [commander of faithful] of Afghan resistance" on October 21, addressed to the "Muslim Ummah [community], Mujahedin in bunkers, [and] the Afghan Muslim and mujahed nation." The website -- which in the past posted messages only in Pashto and Arabic but recently added Dari -- has posted Mullah Omar's message in English and Dari only. The message begins with the statement that for the fifth year, the Afghans are celebrating the end of Ramadan while their "homeland is under the occupation of Americans" -- in the Dari version "Americans" is rendered as "crusaders." The message says that Afghan President Hamid Karzai "and his associates are searching for [an] exit," but Mullah Omar vows not to allow them to leave Afghanistan, but to bring them "to Islamic justice." As a reminder of justice system used by the Taliban, Mullah Omar states: "And everyone is well aware of the strength of our court." According to the message, Karzai's administration has "failed to control" the growing narcotics problem in Afghanistan because of the presence of "drug smugglers" in the governmental ranks. "Those who are ruling Afghans, in fact, are aliens as they have returned to Afghanistan with foreign culture and ideas and they feel ashamed to adopt their own culture," Mullah Omar adds. AT

In his October 21 Eid al-Fitr message, Mullah Omar says that the "aggressors" are facing defeat in Afghanistan despite spending "millions of dollars on media" campaigns, according to the version posted on the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan website. Citing the communist regime that ruled Afghanistan in the 1980s with the help of an invading Soviet force, the message adds that the "puppets" whom the Soviets imposed as rulers were Afghans but "did not have any Afghan mentality and feelings." "I advise my Muslim and mujahed nation" to be patient, because the "enemy" is trying "to hid their weaknesses" by claiming that Pakistan is supporting the Taliban, Mullah Omar states. "With the grace of Allah, the fighting will be increased manifold and it will be greatly organized," he says, adding that "the fighting will be a surprise for many." While Mullah Omar asks the "mujahedin" to "intensify their attacks," he urges them to avoid harming "innocent people and children" and "not commit any act which is contrary to [the] Shari'a." At the end of his message, Mullah Omar warns against "sectarian hatred" as all Muslims, Sunnis, and Shi'a are "brothers." He repeats his appeal for patience and prays for the "more success" to "mujahedin in Iraq." AT

The deadline set by unidentified kidnappers of Italian journalist Gabriele Torsello passed on October 22 without word on his fate, AFP reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 16, 17, 18, and 19, 2006). Torsello's abductors initially said they would release their captive in exchange for an Afghan national who was arrested in March and threatened with death for his conversion to Christianity (see "RFE/RL Afghanistan Report," April 3, 2006), but later they demanded that Italy withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Italian Ambassador Ettore Francesco Sequi said in Kabul on October 22 that he did not know of any "specific development" but said "formal and informal" channels remain open. Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashari told AFP on October 22 that the "criminals make these deadlines for themselves -- we don't care about their deadlines. They are criminals. We will never deal with them, we will never compromise." AT

The president of Pakistan's Awami National Party, Asfandyar Wali Khan, has received a letter from President Karzai "explaining the efforts of his government for establishing peace and stability in the region," according to an Awami press release issued on October 20. Karzai's letter purportedly says the terrorists who are destabilizing Afghanistan "do not enjoy any popular support" there and "only thrive on foreign support." Karzai reportedly expressed hoped that a planned "Peace Jirga," joining tribes from across Afghan-Pakistani border, "provide[s] an opportunity for the forces of peace to join hands." Responding to Karzai's letter, Wali Khan welcomed the proposal and expressed "his deep concern over the fact that some elements with despicable agendas were turning the land of the Pakhtuns [Pashtuns] into a battlefield." Wali Khan urged that the proposed peace council not be confined to "hand-picked" representatives of the Afghan and Pakistani governments, warning that the exclusion of the "real stake-holders" could undermine the purpose to the "Peace Jirga." After Pakistan signed a peace deal with locals in North Waziristan in September, Afghanistan proposed involving local tribes along the Afghan-Pakistani border as a step to stop infiltrations by into Afghanistan. AT

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Husseini said in Tehran on October 22 that Iran will respond if sanctions are imposed over its nuclear activities and contrasted Western threats with what he suggested was Iran's cooperative approach, ISNA reported. "If the West chooses sanctions, we too will decide in line with their choice," he said, adding that the West's choice of "the Security Council path, threats and...resolutions" will have "regional, international, and global consequences and the West knows this very well. Meanwhile, we have always stressed dialogue and negotiations," ISNA reported. Husseini said Iran's calls to form an international consortium in Iran to produce nuclear fuel -- one of the activities the West wants Iran to stop due to its potential military applications -- are among the confidence-building measures that Iran has taken, "which should have been encouraged and welcomed by other states." Iran proposed talking about a "limited suspension" of uranium enrichment and related activities if "conditions were fair," he said, while rejecting suspension in principle. Husseini asked why Iran should accept suspension beyond the requirements of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to which it is a signatory. "We had duties we have carried out, for which we must enjoy certain rights," he said. "They want to deprive us of those rights." VS

Senior legislator Alaeddin Borujerdi said in Tehran on October 22 that Iran has no option but to "stand firm in the nuclear field, and the entire system shares this view," IRNA reported. Borujerdi, the head of the parliamentary National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, was speaking on the sidelines of a meeting of members of the three branches of government. He said the nuclear dossier constitutes a "difficult passage" for Iran. "We have no authority but to go through this passage. America's red line is Iran's enrichment and that is precisely our red line, and that is the point causing the challenge. We must either surrender or tolerate difficult events," he said. "The West wants Iran to be a weak and impotent country, but that will never take place because the government and parliament will not accept it." Borujerdi said Iran must "state its case" but "establish peacefulness in foreign policy," IRNA reported. Parliament, he added, has passed three laws to safeguard Iran's nuclear rights. VS

Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commander Major General Yahya Rahim Safavi said in Tehran on October 22 that Iran's armed forces "have intelligence dominance over supra-regional enemies and are precisely observing their movements," IRNA reported, citing the IRGC public-relations office. He said after a troops review that foreign powers have concluded that the peoples of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon have learned to resist "foreign domination" from Iran and its defense against Iraq from 1980-88, and that Iran's armed forces are "a powerful force, equipped with advanced, contemporary equipment and technology." Iran's armed forces have a "strategy of comprehensive deterrence and defense," he said. The same day, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad met with Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau, stating Iran's desire for optimal ties with Belarus and cooperation in energy, industry and defense sectors, IRNA reported. Ahmadinejad said Iran wishes to work with "independent" and "friendly" states to break the alleged injustice of "the existing unipolar system in the world." The two discussed a coming visit by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, although IRNA gave no date for that trip. VS

Former legislator Ali Akbar Musavi-Khoeini was released on bail on October 21 after 130 days' detention, Radio Farda reported on October 23, quoting his wife, Zohreh Islamian. Musavi-Khoeni reportedly had to post bail of 150 million tumans (roughly $160,000). He said after his release that he was jailed for his "useful and effective" activities when a member of parliament and an activist, including for calling state officials to account and defending the rights of detainees. Musavi-Khoeini was arrested on June 12 after he participated in a Tehran demonstration for women's rights (see "RFE/RL Iran Report," September 26, 2006). He vowed to continue his "social and human rights" activities, Radio Farda reported. Separately, Muhaddaseh Saberi, a supporter of detained cleric Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Kazemeyni Boroujerdi, told Radio Farda on October 22 that reports of that outspoken cleric's release are false and that Boroujerdi remains in Tehran's Evin prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 10 and 17, 2006). "They want to make it seem as if [Boroujerdi] has been released," she said, so that no one "follow[s] up" on his case. VS

Iraqi forces maintained a tense calm in Al-Amarah on October 22 after violent clashes between the Imam al-Mahdi Army and the Badr Brigades left 25 dead and more than 160 injured, international media reported the same day. The fighting erupted on October 19 after the assassination of Qassim al-Tamini, a senior Iraqi intelligence officer and a member of the Badr Brigades, the militia loyal to Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) whose members have taken a large role in the police forces there. SCIRI officials placed the blame on Muqtada al-Sadr's Imam al-Mahdi Army and police affiliated with Badr subsequently arrested five Al-Mahdi militiamen. In response, around 300 fighters from al-Sadr's militia burned down two police stations and violent street clashes broke out. The Iraqi government dispatched 2,300 troops to Al-Amarah from Baghdad and Al-Basrah to quell the violence and by October 22, appeared to have regained control of the city. Clashes were also reported between the two militias in Al-Suwayrah and Hamza Al-Sharqi, "The New York Times" reported on October 22. SS

Approximately 50 Iraqi religious leaders meeting in the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on October 20 signed a text calling for the end of sectarian violence in Iraq, international media reported on October 21. The 10-point Mecca Charter, drafted by four clerics under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), draws on verses from the Koran and sayings by the Prophet Muhammad. It calls for ending sectarian strife, protecting places of worship, defending the territorial integrity of Iraq, and releasing all innocent detainees. Furthermore, it called on all Iraqis to "work together to end foreign occupation and rebuild the country's economic, political, and military capacities." OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanglu expressed optimism, but stressed the organization did not have a "magic wand" to ensure its implementation. Two of Iraq's most influential spiritual leaders, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and Muqtada al-Sadr, declined to send representatives to the meeting, but supported the conference (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 20, 2006). SS

Alberto Fernandez, director of public diplomacy in the State Department's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, said during an interview with Al-Jazeera television on October 21 that the U.S. had shown "arrogance" and "stupidity" in Iraq, international media reported the same day. "We tried to do our best, but I think there is much room for criticism because, undoubtedly, there was arrogance and there was stupidity from the United States in Iraq," Fernandez said in Arabic. He also said that a U.S. failure in Iraq would be a "disaster for the region" that the United States would be willing to talk to any insurgent group except Al-Qaeda to end the sectarian violence. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormick said that a translation of Fernandez's interview was inaccurate and he was misquoted. SS

Qadir Aziz, a representative of Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) leader Mas'ud Barzani on October 21 criticized Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's appointment of a Turkoman representative to the high council responsible for the implementation of Article 140 of the Iraqi Constitution regarding the status of the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, dpa reported on October 22. The article outlines a three-stage plan that would remedy the injustices of the Arabization policy adopted by the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. Some ethnic groups in Kirkuk had complained earlier that Article 140 only protects Kurdish interests and in response to the complaints, al-Maliki appointed a Turkoman to the council. "The decision was only meant to please the Turkoman front," Aziz said. SS

U.S. forces announced on October 21 that they had killed a suspected high-ranking Al-Qaeda in Iraq operative and detained seven other suspects during a raid in the western city of Al-Ramadi, international media reported the same day. "The targeted terrorist is a senior Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader in Al-Ramadi known for facilitating the movement of explosives and participating in multiple operations against Iraqi and coalition forces," the U.S. military said in a statement, AFP reported. On October 18, armed gunmen from the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Mujahedin Shura Council marched through Al-Ramadi declaring that the city would be part of an Islamic state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," October 19, 2006). U.S. and Iraqi officials have dismissed the declaration, calling it propaganda. SS