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Newsline - June 6, 2007

U.S. President George W. Bush said in Prague on June 5 that the planned missile-defense shield is directed against "a rogue regime" and not against Russia, adding that "Russia is not our enemy," news agencies reported. Bush called on President Vladimir Putin to "cooperate with us on a missile-defense system." Referring to Russian democratic reforms, Bush said on June 5 that "reforms that were once promised to empower citizens have been derailed, with troubling implications for democratic development." On June 6, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that "we cannot agree with...Bush about a rollback of reforms. Russia is a democratic state that shares world and European values." The two presidents are slated to meet during the June 6-8 Group of Eight (G8) summit in Heiligendamm, Germany. On June 5, the Russian daily "Vremya novostei" noted that "the new arms race, verbal for the time being, is moving into high gear. Upset by the turn developments are taking, the Russian leadership is abandoning the language of politicians and adopting military parlance. This trend was confirmed by...Putin's recent press conference," at which he threatened to target Europe with missiles. PM

Russian opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov said in Prague on June 5 that "if [President] Bush hopes to gain anything by having private discussions with [President] Putin, he's wrong," news agencies reported. Kasparov added that "Putin thrives in an atmosphere of secrecy. He's a KGB spy. Anything behind closed doors gives him an advantage." Kasparov suggested that Bush should openly confront Putin instead of inviting him to the United States for private talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31, 2007). Kasparov added that Russia can learn from Ukraine "to establish the culture of compromise, the culture of consensus, because at the end of the day, any peaceful based on a consensus between the street protests and part of the bureaucracy, that part of nomenklatura that understands that there is no other way but to start looking for a national consensus." Kasparov believes that suppressing dissent in Russia "will backfire because the Putin regime [faces] an old paradox. It is an authoritarian regime...a police state, which masquerades as a democracy. But, at the same time, the interests of the ruling elite are in the West, in the free world." Kasparov believes that the rulers "can talk as much as they want about China, India, and [redirecting policies toward Asia], but their money, fortunes, assets, soccer clubs, kids -- everything is in the free world." He also argued that a crisis in Russia is "inevitable...because living conditions...are deteriorating, and most Russians see no benefits from high oil and gas prices." Kasparov said that including Russia in the G8 only serves to confer undeserved legitimacy on Putin. But, he continued, most of Putin's good friends are no longer in power, and "now it's a different atmosphere.... He might be treated as an equal, but he understands that the message is that he, Putin, doesn't belong there." PM

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said in Washington on June 5 that "we would encourage the Russian government to work closely with the U.K. judicial authorities and the Crown Prosecutor" regarding the 2006 poisoning death of Aleksandr Litvinenko in London, news agencies reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29 and 31, and June 4 and 5, 2007). McCormack noted that "there have been comments coming out of the Russian leadership talking about their insistence that they aren't going to cooperate. We would encourage them to cooperate in this matter." Britain wants to put former KGB officer Andrei Lugovoi on trial for the murder and seeks his extradition from Russia. The Russian Constitution prohibits the extradition of Russian citizens, but allows for them to be tried before a Russian court (see "Russia: Chances Of Litvinenko Suspect's Extradition 'Hypothetical,'", May 25, 2007). Russian officials have repeatedly stressed that point. PM

President Putin said in Moscow on June 5 that he does not want Mayor Yury Luzhkov to leave office until he solves some important problems facing Muscovites, the daily "Kommersant" reported on June 6. Those issues include providing affordable housing and obtaining justice for investors who lost their housing investments in scams. Putin added that, once these problems are solved, "we will return to the question of changing your job." Putin reportedly denied a request by Roman Abramovich, whom "Forbes" calls Russia's richest man, to leave the governorship of Siberia's remote Chukotka Autonomous Okrug after six years in office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," January 19, 2007). The often outspoken Luzhkov has been in office since 1992 and is one of the founders of the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia party. PM

Some 1,000 people rallied in Stavropol late on June 5 to demand the expulsion of ethnic Chechens and the resignation of Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, and Interfax reported. Some protesters clashed with riot police, who briefly detained up to 51 demonstrators and filed charges against one of them. The unauthorized protest took place despite the imposition of tough security measures. It was held in response to the June 3 fatal stabbing of two Russian students, which some residents believe was carried out by Chechens to avenge the death of a Chechen youth during a May 24 brawl. It is not clear who killed the three young men, and no charges have been filed in those cases. On June 6, Chernogorov met with representatives of the protesters, who demanded that the murders be solved and that citizens' safety be guaranteed. A statement from the governor's office noted that the "representatives suggested that the leaders of ethnic diasporas be actively involved in an explanatory campaign for the population, including in the media, to help establish peace and calm in the city." Anatoly Kucherena, who is a Public Chamber deputy and a lawyer, appealed to the authorities to provide full information regarding the killings. He reminded them of the September 2006 fighting in Kondopoga in Karelia, which, he said, demonstrated the importance of providing complete and objective information to the public. A bar fight there left two Russians dead, which triggered widespread looting and demonstrations aimed primarily at people from the Caucasus. That violence was variously described as hooligan, ethnic, criminal, a popular reaction against corruption, or the result of outside manipulation (see "RFE/RL Newsline," September 5, 6, 7, and 15, 2006, and "RFE/RL Russian Political Weekly," September 12, 2006). PM

Chechnya Peace Forum Director Ivar Amundsen has written to the heads of state of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States requesting that they raise with President Putin during the G8 summit the ongoing violations of human rights in Chechnya. In his letter, posted on June 6 on, Amundsen condemned the current "tyranny of fear and repression" under pro-Moscow Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov. He argued that the last elections in Chechnya recognized by the international community as legal and valid took place in 1997, and argued that "only legal and democratic elections can put an end to horrifying war crimes and create conditions for the Chechen people to live in peace." He asked the seven heads of state to express support for the appeal, which he initiated, by over 100 political and cultural figures to President Putin, published in the British daily "The Independent" on May 7, to put an end to reprisals and war crimes in Chechnya (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 7, 2007). Amundsen concluded by adducing the murders of journalist Anna Politkovskaya and former Russian security agent Aleksandr Litvinenko as evidence that the growing authoritarianism of the ruling Russian regime poses a threat to the entire international community. LF

The press service of the pro-Moscow Chechen Republic leadership issued a statement on June 5 rejecting as without foundation an article published in the June 3 issue of the British weekly "Sunday Times" reporting that videos are circulating in Chechnya showing members of the security forces subordinate to republic head Kadyrov torturing people, including a man suspected of stealing oil. The statement said that such information originates with "illegal armed formations" that have a vested interest in destabilizing the political situation in Chechnya. It further affirmed that the Chechen leadership is committed to resolving problems with human rights, and quoted reports by the human rights organization Memorial and comments by Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Thomas Hammarberg to the effect that the human rights situation has improved thanks to the efforts of the republic's leadership. Hammarberg was quoted as telling Kadyrov during talks in February that numerous detainees he spoke to in Grozny complained to him that they have been mistreated or tortured (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 28, 2007). LF

Gagik Tsarukian will head the parliamentary faction of his pro-presidential Bargavach Hayastan (Prosperous Armenia, BH) party, which polled second in the May 12 parliamentary elections, winning a total of 25 seats in the 131-person legislature, and RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported on June 5. Nine of the 18 BH deputies elected under the proportional system who are either government officials or on the staff of academic institutions have declined to take up their mandates. Meanwhile, talks on the composition of the new cabinet are continuing, reported on June 5 quoting an unnamed source within BH. In addition to BH, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun, a junior coalition partner in the outgoing government, and the United Labor Party, also a junior coalition partner, but which failed to win representation in the new legislature, are also participating in those talks, according to LF

Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos, who is the current OSCE chairman in office, met in Yerevan on June 5 with Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian and with Arkady Ghukasian, president of the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR), RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported. The talks focused on the planned June 9 meeting in St. Petersburg between the Armenian and Azerbaijani presidents, Robert Kocharian and Ilham Aliyev, to resume talks on the basic principles for resolving the Karabakh conflict. Both Oskanian and Ghukasian identified as the most important sticking point still to be resolved the future status of Nagorno-Karabakh. While Moratinos advocated approaching the talks in a spirit of optimism, Ghukasian said he "cannot imagine what optimism we can speak of unless we come to agreement on this issue." Ghukasian was further quoted by as saying that Baku wants all its demands to be met without having to make any concessions, and that the NKR should have the final word on the terms of any settlement of the conflict. In Baku, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammdyarov, who met with Moratinos the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007), said on June 5 that Armenia and Azerbaijan have reached agreement that Armenian forces should withdraw from the Lachin district that lies between the NKR and Armenia proper, but have not yet resolved the question of deploying international peacekeepers to secure the road corridor that links the two, and reported. He also argued that in the event that a referendum is held to determine the future status of the NKR, the entire population of Azerbaijan should participate. LF

Meeting in Tbilisi on June 4 with diplomatic representatives of the Friends of the UN Secretary-General for Georgia group of countries (France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), Georgian Deputy Foreign Minister Giorgi Manjgaladze reaffirmed Tbilisi's readiness to resume without preconditions talks on resolving the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported on June 5. But during talks on June 5 with Ambassador Jean Arnault, who is the special representative of the UN secretary-general for the Abkhaz conflict, Manjgaladze stressed that Georgia insists on the return of all displaced persons to Abkhazia, regardless of where they lived prior to the 1992-1993 war. Abkhaz officials have repeatedly argued that the repatriation should be conducted in stages, with those Georgians who lived in Abkhazia's southernmost Gali Raion returning first, in order to minimize tensions (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 5 and 15, 2005). Should Georgia demonstrate a lack of understanding and flexibility on this issue, the Abkhaz are unlikely to waive their current preconditions for returning to the negotiating table. Those conditions are the withdrawal from the Kodori Gorge of the Georgian Interior Ministry troops deployed there in July 2006 and of the so-called Abkhaz government in exile. LF

In a June 5 statement, the Georgian Ministry for Conflict Resolution blamed the ongoing water shortage in Tskhinvali, capital of the unrecognized republic of South Ossetia, on the South Ossetian authorities' refusal to cooperate with the pro-Tbilisi provisional South Ossetian administration in repairing damaged water mains, Caucasus Press reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze similarly told Western diplomats on June 5 that the water shortage is a problem artificially created by the regime of de facto South Ossetian leader Eduard Kokoity. LF

The speaker of the Kazakh Senate, Qasymzhomart Toqaev, on June 5 presented a report on the implementation of constitutional reforms in Kazakhstan during a meeting in Astana with visiting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard Boucher, Khabar TV and ITAR-TASS reported. Toqaev told Boucher that "Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev's landmark visit to Washington last September has raised our strategic partnership to a new qualitative level." In comments to reporters after the meeting, Boucher noted that "we have made good progress" in strengthening bilateral relations, which, he said, have "achieved a great deal" in recent years. Boucher stressed that his visit to Kazakhstan presents "another opportunity to make progress in economic and security issues," and praised the country's "many interesting reforms, including constitutional amendments that will increase parliament's role." Among other constitutional changes, recently passed legislation allows Nazarbaev to serve as president for an unlimited number of terms. Boucher is also scheduled to meet with Kyrgyz officials in Bishkek on June 8, AKIpress reported. RG

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates met in Bishkek on June 5 with Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiev and Defense Minister Ismail Isakov for talks focusing on issues related to bilateral military cooperation, including the status of the U.S. base in Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service and AKIpress reported. At a press conference after the meetings, Gates noted that the talks also addressed "opportunities for expanding the nonmilitary side" of the U.S.-Kyrgyz relationship. The U.S. military base, located at the Manas air base, houses roughly 1,200 U.S. military personnel and serves as the primary support base for operations in neighboring Afghanistan. The high-level visit is seen as a response to recent recommendations by several key Kyrgyz parliamentary committees calling on the Kyrgyz government to "review" the U.S. military presence in the country (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 24 and 25, 2007), and follows recent calls by the parliament speaker demanding that U.S. personnel be stripped of their diplomatic immunity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). As the most obvious symbol of the Kyrgyz-U.S. military relationship, the Manas base has sparked resentment among the Kyrgyz public in response to a number of issues: a shooting at the base in December 2006 that killed a Kyrgyz citizen; a collision that damaged a Kyrgyz aircraft; and complaints alleging that operations at the air base are harming the local environment (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 7, 2006). RG

Opposition politician Mikalay Statkevich, who was recently released from prison (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2007), wants to set up a pro-European alliance of opposition activists that would be led by former opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, Belapan reported on June 5. "All sociological surveys suggest that the population of Belarus does not have an allergy to the European Union," Statkevich told the agency. "As for young and middle-aged people, they raise two hands in support of European values. This is the army that we can gather. For them, the flag of the EU is very important and of greater value than ideas about unity with Russia," he added. Statkevich noted that the new alliance would unite people behind a pro-European platform, rather than behind a specific leader. At last month's opposition congress in Minsk, Milinkevich was voted out of his role as leader of the coalition of opposition forces. The congress decided to replace Milinkevich with four co-chairs of the Political Council of United Prodemocratic Forces (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 29, 2007). Milinkevich has not yet commented on Statkevich's proposal. JM

Parliament speaker Oleksandr Moroz said at a Verkhovna Rada session on June 6 that President Viktor Yushchenko will need to issue one more decree in order to call for early parliamentary elections in full accordance with the law, UNIAN reported. Yushchenko on June 5 issued his third decree calling for early elections, this time on September 30. Yushchenko said the additional decree is necessary because the Verkhovna Rada has become illegitimate as a result of the resignations of deputies from Our Ukraine and the Yulia Tymoshenko Bloc last week, since the chamber now comprises fewer than the 300 lawmakers it needs to legally function. Moroz said on June 6 that Yushchenko's assertion is not a "fait accompli" yet. Moroz reiterated his opinion that the current Verkhovna Rada will formally cease to exist only after a relevant ruling from the Central Election Commission (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 5, 2007). "The president of Ukraine overstepped his powers and included the issue of determining the legitimacy of the Verkhovna Rada into his competence," Moroz said. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych too said on June 6 that the current parliament remains legitimate. "The Verkhovna Rada will be legitimate until a final decision or a clarification from the Constitutional Court," Yanukovych said at a cabinet meeting. JM

Academic Mykola Zhulynskyy, an adviser to President Yushchenko for cultural affairs, was detained by border guards at the Pulkovo Airport in St. Petersburg on June 5 and was barred from entering Russia, Ukraine's Channel 5 television reported. "I was given back my passport and told that I will be deported. But they did not give me any reason for this deportation," Zhulynskyy told the TV channel in a telephone call from St. Petersburg. Zhulynskyy suggested that his detention was Moscow's tit-for-tat response to Kyiv's refusal to admit Russian political scientist Aleksandr Dugin, who was prevented from entering Ukraine at the Simferopol airport in Crimea earlier the same day. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has requested that Moscow allow Zhulynskyy to enter Russia and provide an explanation regarding the incident in St. Petersburg. JM

Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku said on June 5 that he expects the Group of Eight (G8) summit of leading industrialized countries in Germany to lead swiftly to a decision on the future of the UN-administered region. "I think that there are two people who will decide the issue of Kosova, and they are [U.S.] President [George W.] Bush and [Russian] President [Vladimir] Putin. Both of them are there [at the G8 summit] and this is the main issue that awaits their decision, and I expect they will resolve this issue shortly," Kosovar media quoted him as saying the same day. Ceku added, in a comment described as jocular, that journalists should not make plans to be outside Kosova this weekend. Kosovar media reported on June 5-6 that the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on June 4 that the UN Security Council could vote this week on a resolution paving the way for Kosova's independence, but he added developments will depend on the results of the G8 summit. According to international and local media, Bush met on June 5 with the head of the team negotiating on Kosova's future, Veton Surroi, promising him that Washington will move quickly to resolve Kosova's status. AG

The Kosovar Albanian daily "Koha ditore" on June 6 quoted unnamed sources as saying that the Russian ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, wants Prishtina and Belgrade to discuss the future of Kosova for another year before the region's status is resolved. Russia has not commented on the report. Moscow has in recent weeks threatened to veto a draft resolution that, while making some concessions to Russia, gives Kosova a platform to declare independence quickly rather than stipulating the need for further talks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 14 and 30, and June 1, 2007). Kosovar media reported on June 5, citing unnamed sources, as well as the deputy head of the British mission to the UN, Karen Pierce, that most states in the 15-member Security Council support the draft resolution. Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic will spend June 6-7 in Moscow in talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov. Moscow confirmed on June 5 that that meeting will be followed on June 9 by talks between Russian President Putin and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. AG

A spokesman for Serbia's war crimes prosecutors, Bruno Vekaric, on June 5 denied claims by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that the Bosnian Serbs' wartime leader, Radovan Karadzic, is hiding in Serbia, AP reported the same day. Vekaric concurred with the ICTY that a police general wanted in connection with atrocities in Kosova, Vlastimir Djordjevic, is in Russia, but did not comment on the location of the three other war crimes suspects who remain on the run and who the ICTY believes are in Serbia: Ratko Mladic, Goran Hadzic, and Stojan Zupljanin (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 18, 2007). The ICTY's chief prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, is currently on a four-day visit to Serbia, which the ICTY describes both as her last trip to Serbia and her first at the invitation of the Serbian government. Few details have emerged about the trip, other than its itinerary. Del Ponte's arrival in Belgrade was preceded, on May 31, by the arrest of Zdravko Tolimir, a Bosnian Serb general and aide to Mladic. Tolimir claimed in court on June 4 that, contrary to reports, he was first arrested in Serbia and then transferred to the Republika Srpska, the Bosnian Serb-dominated entity for which he fought in 1992-95. He was the first person indicted by the ICTY to be arrested in the Republika Srpska. Tolimir's arrest has already resulted in a promise that the EU will resume preaccession talks with Serbia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 31 and June 4, 2007). While Brussels has made the timing of the talks contingent on a report by Del Ponte, its promise is being taken by commentators in Belgrade as a sign that Del Ponte's assessment will not have a crucial bearing on Brussels' policy. Del Ponte was highly critical of the previous Serbian government, a view that contributed to the EU's decision to suspend talks in May 2006. Del Ponte will leave her post in September. AG

Serbian forensic experts on June 5 began work at the site of a suspected mass grave on Serbia's border with Kosova, international and local media reported the same day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 4, 2007). An unnamed Serbian official quoted by Reuters said the site, an abandoned quarry, is expected to yield the remains of between 300 and 500 Kosovar Albanians killed in the 1998-99 conflict. If this figure proves accurate, this would be the largest mass grave discovered in Serbia since 2001, when the remains of over 800 Kosovar Albanians were found at two sites. Officials reportedly believe that, in an effort to cover up atrocities, Serbian forces exhumed the bodies from sites within Kosova and dumped them in the quarry a week before Serbian troops withdrew from the province in June 1999. Bruno Vekaric, a spokesman for Serbia's war crimes court, told AP that witnesses reported having seen trucks unloading bodies at the site, while an unnamed source quoted on June 5 by AFP said the site was identified by a witness who gave testimony at the ICTY. The Kosovar media on April 5 quoted the International Committee of the Red Cross as saying that the fate of 2,087 Kosovar Albanians remains unknown. AG

The European Parliament on June 5 passed a resolution that supports Macedonia's position in its dispute with Greece over its name, the news agency MIA reported the same day. "This marks the first time that an EU institution has taken a clear position on this issue," MIA quoted Angelika Beer, a German Green deputy, as saying. Greece, an EU and NATO member, insists that Macedonia should be known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to distinguish it from the Greek province of the same name. Macedonia has won official support for its constitutional name, the Republic of Macedonia, from three permanent members of the UN -- China, Russia, and the United States -- and from a number of EU states. The European Parliament's position, adopted in a report on Macedonia's progress toward EU membership, states that "the name issue must in no way be used as an obstacle to the opening of negotiations and EU accession." Efforts to resolve the dispute, which has already lasted 16 years, have made no progress since October 2005, when Greece rejected a proposal put forward by a UN mediator, and those efforts were dealt a further blow in December 2006, when Macedonia renamed Skopje's airport after Alexander the Great, a Greek emperor born in the Greek province of Macedonia. Greece has in recent months indicated it could veto Macedonia's bid for EU and NATO membership over the dispute (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 23, 2007). AG

In an interview published by the Greek daily "Kathimerini" on June 3, Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski indicated Macedonia will seek to sidestep Greece's threat to prevent it joining NATO, saying that "if a solution to the dispute is not possible by the time we are admitted to NATO, then we are prepared to be admitted under the reference which is currently used in the UN [the FYROM]." He made clear, though, that would be only a "provisional solution." Macedonia hopes to receive a formal invitation in 2008 to join NATO. In the interview, Crvenkovski criticized Greece for rejecting UN proposals in 2005, stressed that Macedonia has already made concessions relating to its constitution and the flag, stated that Macedonia has no territorial claims on Greece, and argued that "there is not a single" reason why the renaming of Skopje airport should cause offense. AG

Montenegrin Finance Minister Igor Luksic on June 1 told the daily "Vijesti" that, contrary to earlier indications, Montenegro will not enter into a formal two-year agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Montenegro became the 185th member of the IMF in January. Luksic did not explain Podgorica's decision, while stressing that the country's economic policies and reform plans match the IMF's recommendations and underscoring that Montenegro believes the IMF could help with key energy and labor-market reforms. Montenegro will continue to inform the IMF about its economic plans and progress, but the decision means it will not be constrained by binding commitments. This move therefore averts the possibility of negative appraisals by the IMF, which could in turn dent investors' confidence in the country. Montenegro had no plans to use loans from the IMF. "Vijesti" said government sources indicated the decisive factor was the IMF's opposition to Montenegro's plans to take on more debt for infrastructure projects, which the IMF believes could overheat the economy, according to "Vijesti." AG

During a visit to Belgrade, Cuban Deputy Foreign Minister Eumelio Caballero Rodriguez called for a negotiated agreement on the future of Kosova and opposed a solution imposed by the UN. Rodriguez's statement, which he made on May 29, was the most high-profile comment made during an extended tour of the former Yugoslavia, which also took him to Croatia and Serbia. In an interview published on June 3 by the Bosnian daily "Oslobodjenje," Rodriguez argued that, on the economic front, Cuba could benefit in particular from Balkan states' involvement in its tourist industry, while they could gain from buying Cuban pharmaceuticals. He also specifically criticized the Czech Republic for seeking to harden the EU's stance towards Cuba. Rodriguez said 30 percent of Cuba's trade is with the EU. AG

The U.S. State Department is currently trying to forge a consensus on the need for a multilateral peace force to be deployed in Transdniester, AP and Reuters reported on June 5. Paula DeSutter, assistant secretary of state responsible for overseeing the implementation of international arms agreements, told journalists on June 5 during a visit to Brussels that "the United States is considering and discussing with our NATO allies options where we can propose to Russia an alternative peacekeeping force for [Transdniester], one that is genuinely multilateral, with Russian participation." Russian forces intervened in 1992 to halt the separatist conflict and have remained in the contested region, despite subsequent pledges to withdraw. Russia's continued presence in Transdniester remains a source of friction with Moldova. "Even if you call them peacekeepers, you can't have stationed forces on someone else's territory without their consent, and that for us is a critical principle," DeSutter said. Uncertainty about the immediate future of talks centers on the response of Transdniester to the UN's pending decision on independence for Kosova, and the possibility that Russia might withdraw from the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty. NATO members have not ratified the agreement because of Russia's continued troop presence in Georgia and Transdniester. Russia has since pulled its forces out of Georgia. AG

In a defiant interview given on June 5 to RFE/RL's Romania-Moldova Service, Andrei Ivantoc, one of the last two prisoners held by pro-Russian separatists controlling Moldova's Transdniester region, said there can be "no compromise" with Transdniester (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 2007). Ivantoc, who was released on June 2, exactly 15 years after his arrest on terrorism charges, called the Transdniestrian administration "foreign forces, occupational forces," adding that Moldovans "have to clean up" Transdniester. In the short interview, Ivantoc said he was beaten up by Transdniestrian law enforcement officials shortly after his release. Immediately after being taken across the border, Ivantoc tried to get back into Transdniester, resulting in what the Moldovan media described variously as a scuffle or a beating. Ivantoc indicated he was regularly beaten during his 15-year imprisonment. According to the news agency Basa, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), a representative of which was present at Ivantoc's release, on June 5 denied that Ivantoc was beaten when he was set free. Though jailed as a terrorist, Ivantoc and three others in the same group were viewed internationally as political prisoners, and in 2004 secured a ruling in their favor by the European Court of Human Rights (see "RFE/RL Newsline," July 9 and October 19, 2004). All four were leading figures in the local Tiraspol branch of a party opposed to independence for Transdniester. The last prisoner, Tudor Petrov-Popa, was released on June 4. AG

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves spoke on June 5 with RFE/RL about his country's vulnerability after weeks of cyberattacks and Estonia's relations with Russia. "RFE/RL Newsline" presents excerpts from that conversation (you can read the entire interview at

RFE/RL: Your country has had a lot of attention recently, given this story about moving the Soviet monument and then the cyberattacks on Estonian computer systems. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Toomas Hendrik Ilves: I don't know where to begin. Certainly, we saw the use of massive cyberattacks against state institutions, as well as private sites, including banks. Initially, you could say it was sort of a grassroots thing. But then it became a matter of organized crime.

What I can say is that every EU country has something called CERT, a computer emergency response team. And they visited ours, and there they had a graph of the cyberattacks, which suddenly rises straight up and continues and continues at a massive level of attacks, and at exactly 00:00 GMT, it stopped. I asked, "Why is that?" And the head of CERT said, "Well, they didn't buy any more time."

If it's a random...process of people on the web sort of doing things when they're launching attacks, that's something that goes on like white noise in the background. But a discrete, massive attack must be organized. The question is, can we prove who bought the time on these illegal organized crime botnets? We can't. But it's probably not Uruguay.

RFE/RL: So you're saying it's Russia.

Ilves: No, I'm saying it's not Uruguay, probably.

RFE/RL: Are there any clues that can point you toward any given country, beside Uruguay?

Ilves: Given it's timing...I mean, it's all circumstantial. Why do we have this? There is direct evidence of sort of grassroots-level [activity]. One of the commissars of the [pro-Kremlin youth] organization Nashi, in an interview with "Vedomosti," said, "Yes, I organized attacks." But he was giving people instructions on how to do a computer attack. But that would have had an effect at the sort of low level of people who themselves wanted to do something, but not at the level of an organized industrial-strength attack of this type.

Considering our vulnerability, we came out fairly well. A number of people I've read in memos said [that] had it been some other country with less experience, they would have been in much bigger trouble faced by these kinds of attacks. If anything, we feel the solidarity shown by the European Union, as well as by the United States. In fact, I think it made Estonians feel much more secure. And our support level for the European Union has risen to 87 percent, which is by far the highest in Europe.

RFE/RL: Russian President Vladimir Putin yesterday gave an interview to "Corriere della Sera," an Italian newspaper, in which he was asked his reaction to the missile-defense system that the United States is seeking to install here and in Poland. And, of course, he said that Russia would react. And they asked him, "Does that mean you'll be pointing missiles at European cities?" And he said, "Yes, naturally." Given those kinds of comments and some of the comments and actions that have happened in Estonia, how do you react to that?

Ilves: I gave a long talk on that last night. Briefly, democracies don't go to war with each other. Democracies don't make warlike threats against each other. Either that truism is false or the notion of a G8 of the industrialized democracies getting together is based on a false premise. I mean, democracies don't behave like that. [It's] one or the other. Either we chuck out the premise, or we have to rethink what the G8 stands for. Which is not to mean that anyone's going to throw the Russians out of the G8.

RFE/RL: Some people are calling for that.

Ilves: That's true, but...if you're not a member of the G8, it's not difficult to call for anyone to be thrown out. But I certainly wouldn't call it the organization of industrialized democracies anymore.

RFE/RL: What would you call it?

Ilves: Seven industrial democracies and one country brought in for reasons that have lost their relevance. If you think about it, why would you not have China then? Why would you not have India?

RFE/RL: What would happen if more of Russia's neighbors -- Georgia, Ukraine -- follow the Estonian path of integration with NATO and the EU? Some people say that a good, democratic Ukraine could pull Russia down the same road.

Ilves: It's clear that Russia has bad relations with all the democratic countries on its borders that were formerly under communist rule -- I mean, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Georgia, Ukraine. All democratic countries.

It has passable, if not good, relations with nondemocratic countries -- Belarus, the Central Asian countries, where democracy is not always so wonderful. That should make one think. And what it should make one think about is that Russian relations with Ukraine and Georgia were fine until they had democratic revolutions. What does that mean? Well, that means that democracy really is perceived as a threat by Russia.

In the case of Russia today, we see tremendous fear that freedom of the press, freedom of association, freedom of the media, free and fair elections are viewed as bad things, and countries that have those things disprove the notion of a sovereign democracy -- previously called a "managed democracy," but now for [public relations] reasons called a "sovereign democracy" -- but either way, it means that the general rules of democracy don't apply. There's a separate way, a separate road, a separate route. There's a different kind of democracy.

Well, from Estonia to Georgia, Ukraine, Poland -- they all show it's not true. In fact, democracy works as democracy. And I think that is viewed by many as a threat. If you read the [Russian] press -- "There will be no Orange Revolutions here" -- what are the Nashi or Molodaya gvardia [nationalist youth groups] there for? They're all sort of there to make sure that if you ever get a Maydan [revolution like that in Ukraine], you have the shock troops to prevent Maydan from happening.

RFE/RL: That sounds pretty bleak.

Ilves: Just my personal opinion. [Laughing] This does not represent the position of the Estonian government.

Taliban commander Mansur Dadullah has told the Al-Jazeera television network that Osama bin Laden is alive and well, and that bin Laden sent him a letter of condolence after his brother, commander Mullah Dadullah, was killed in U.S.-led operations in May, Reuters reported on June 5. It is not clear when the interview took place. Mansur Dadullah claimed that bin Laden told him to follow in the footsteps of his brother and to urge others to do so as well. He said that bin Laden is avoiding media exposure for safety. According to U.S. security officials, the world's most-wanted terrorist and his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahri, are believed to be hiding along the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The death of Mullah Dadullah, who was behind the Taliban's campaign of kidnappings and beheadings, dealt a serious blow to the Taliban insurgency. JC

NATO helicopters on June 5 fired on and sank a boat carrying approximately 20 to 30 Taliban fighters as they attempted to escape across the Helmand River in southern Afghanistan, killing everyone aboard, the "International Herald Tribune" reported. Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman General Zaher Azimi said the militants in the boat exchanged fire with the NATO helicopters before the boat went down. This was reportedly the second boat to sink in the Helmand River in three days. On June 2, a boat with approximately 60 people aboard sank in the river, although there were conflicting reports about whether the passengers were civilians or Taliban fighters and what caused the boat to sink (see "RFE/RL Newsline," June 4, 2007). According to Azimi, Afghan troops, backed up by air strikes, killed an additional 20 to 40 Taliban fighters in a separate incident after they were ambushed in Kandahar Province. JC

Taliban militants on June 5 beheaded one of five healthcare workers kidnapped in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17 and June 4, 2007) after an alleged deal to exchange the hostages for the body of slain Taliban commander Mullah Dadullah fell through, Reuters reported. Afghan officials said on June 4 that President Hamid Karzai ordered the body to be returned in exchange for the release of the medical personnel -- a doctor, three nurses, and a driver (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 17 and June 4, 2007). But Karzai spokesman Karim Rahima told VOA on June 5 that Karzai ordered the return of Dadullah's body on "humanitarian grounds." Purported Taliban spokesman Shahabuddin Attal said a relative of Dadullah went to retrieve the body, but authorities did not hand it over. This exchange was to be handled by local authorities in Kandahar Province, according to Abdullah Fahim, a health ministry advisor. "It's their [Dadullah's family's] right to have the body of their relative," he added. Attal warned that the militants would behead the other hostages if the government failed again to return the body of the slain commander. Karzai incurred criticism for making concessions to the Taliban following an incident in which he exchanged Taliban prisoners for the release of an Italian journalist taken hostage in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 23, 2007). JC

President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told the press in Tehran on June 5 that "sanctions will not in any way harm" Iranians, IRNA reported. Iran is subject to two sets of UN Security Council sanctions over its refusal to curb its contested nuclear program, and may face additional sanctions. Ahmadinejad urged the United Nations not to serve the interests of "certain powers." He said that the UN Security Council's "interference" in Iran's nuclear program is illegal, and "does not in any way help resolve the issue." Just as "the previous sanctions had no effect on" Iran's nuclear program, he said, the "new sanctions will have no results or benefits." Ahmadinejad urged Iran's "enemies" to stop their "childish games," and not to play with the tail of a "lion sitting quietly in the corner." He said the United States is too weak to harm Iranians, because "God backs us." The great powers, he added, have no choice but to end their "arrogant policies" and befriend the world's nations, adding that the age of violence and militarism is over, and that "reason and ideas govern" in today's world. VS

" Responding to questions about his statement on June 3 about Israel's coming destruction, Ahmadinejad said, "I warned [Israel] in my comments not to think of repeating its crimes of last year." Ahmadinejad was referring to Israel's month-long air strikes in Lebanon in July 2006, carried out in an unsuccessful bid to destroy the Hizballah militia. "I have concluded from all the information that [Israel] is trying to make up for its defeat last year against Lebanon's Hizballah, which is why I reminded them to [avoid] new maneuvers." He said the enemies of Muslims have united only to "pillage" the resources of the Middle East, and that sowing discord among Muslims is instrumental in the pursuit of these enemies' goals. Ahmadinejad also played up cooperation in the region, and described his trip to the United Arab Emirates in mid-May and a trip to Oman as visits of "peace and friendship," IRNA reported. VS

Supreme National Security Council Secretary Ali Larijani told IRNA in Berlin on June 5 that he held positive talks that day on bilateral cooperation and international affairs with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Larijani said Iran also views as positive Germany's attention and desire to resolve the standoff over Iran's nuclear program. Larijani informed Steinmeier of his two recent meetings with EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana in Ankara and Madrid, and said Steinmeier presented good suggestions on the negotiation process. The two sides also discussed industrial cooperation between Iran and Germany, and issues regarding Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, IRNA reported. VS

Iran's Money and Credit Council, a body affiliated with the Central Bank, is to review on June 9 a presidential decision to reduce interest rates, taken recently against the council's ruling, Radio Farda reported on June 4. The council decided on April 21 to maintain Iran's interest rates at the current rate of 14 percent for state-sector banks and about 17 percent for private banks for the Persian year to March 2008. That decision was made mainly in response to persistent inflation, which government and independent bodies estimate as being between 13 and 20 percent or more each year. President Ahmadinejad recently decided to overturn the council's decision and ordered an obligatory cut in interest rates to 12 percent for all banks, but later agreed that the Money and Credit Council could review his decision, Radio Farda said. The radio added that the president's decision runs counter to the views of council members, including Central Bank Governor Ibrahim Sheibani, Finance Minister Davud Danesh-Jafari, Trade Minister Masud Mirkazemi, and Amir Mansur Borqei, the head of the Management and Planning Organization, the state economic-planning body. Radio Farda observed that the Credit Council must now decide whether to advise against the president's decision or go against accepted anti-inflationary practices. VS

The Iraqi parliament on June 5 passed a motion to approve the presence of foreign forces in Iraq, Iraqi media reported the same day. The motion was put forward by supporters of Shi'ite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, who collected the signatures of 140 parliamentarians in recent weeks, enabling them to present the proposal for a vote. Meanwhile, parliamentarians have yet to vote on Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's revised cabinet. Iraqi media reports indicate that the vote, which was supposed to be conducted on May 27, has been kept off the daily agenda (see "RFE/RL Newsline," May 25, 2007). KR

The office of Prime Minister al-Maliki issued a statement on June 5 threatening to publicly reveal suspicious relationships between local parties and states in the region which he says are conspiring to attack pipelines and seaports, Al-Sharqiyah television reported the same day. Al-Maliki did not specify who is thought to be involved. The statement said al-Maliki has ordered Iraq's security forces to confront and deter attacks against Iraq's infrastructure, adding that the government will go after attackers with an iron fist. The news channel said in a separate report that 600 workers from the Oil Pipeline Company went on strike on June 4 to protest low wages. The demonstrators closed two main pipelines that carry refined oil by-products to Baghdad and southern Iraq. Oil Ministry spokesman Ali Jasim confirmed that the workers are on strike, but told Al-Sharqiyah that the strike will not impact Iraqi exports through the port city of Al-Basrah. KR

Sheikh Rahim al-Hasnawi, an aide to Shi'ite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, was assassinated in the holy city of Al-Najaf on June 5, Iraqi media reported on June 6. Al-Sharqiyah television quoted a security source as saying three gunmen in a car opened fire on al-Hasnawi near his home in the Al-Jazirah district of the city. Al-Hasnawi was reportedly the ayatollah's secretary. KR

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported on June 5 that displaced people inside Iraq are having a difficult time finding shelter. The UN estimates that some 820,000 Iraqis have been displaced inside the country since February 2006. The number is probably significantly higher, as the agency only counts displaced people who have registered for aid. Iraqi governorates "are becoming overwhelmed by the needs of the displaced," said Jennifer Pagonis, a UNHCR spokeswoman in Geneva. At least 10 of the country's 18 governorates have closed their borders or are restricting the entry of new arrivals. "UNHCR is receiving disturbing reports of regional authorities refusing to register new arrivals, including single women, and denying access to government services," Pagonis said. She added that "many displaced have been evicted from public buildings." The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq and the World Food Program have said that nearly half of the displaced have no access to official food-distribution networks and the number of impoverished shanty towns is increasing, the UNHCR noted. Pagonis said the UNHCR is straining to deal with the refugee situation in the region, adding, "The magnitude of the crisis is staggering." KR

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called on Baghdad to prosecute Iraqis who were responsible for killing Kuwaiti citizens during the 1990 invasion of Kuwait and the subsequent 1991 Gulf War, the UN News Center reported on June 5. Ban issued the plea in a May 31 report to the UN Security Council on efforts to recover the remains of Kuwaiti and third-country nationals. "The execution of Kuwaiti civilians and a decade-long cover-up of the truth constitute a grave violation of human rights and international humanitarian law," the secretary-general said. The report noted that the remains of three Kuwaiti nationals have been identified and repatriated since December, bringing the total number of slain Kuwaitis found in Iraq to 233. Kuwait said it will repatriate the remains of 40 Iraqis for burial in Iraq after DNA testing to establish their identities proved inconclusive. Ban said the Iraqi authorities have been "helpful and forthcoming" with regard to the search for missing Kuwaitis, and acknowledged the difficulties of working within the current security environment in Iraq. KR